#SeniorSeminar – Catherine Patillo and “We are Going to the Game: Building memories at Doak Campbell Stadium”

Wed, 05/22/24
Catherine Patillo

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a senior, a History major, graduating a year early. I brought in a few credits from high school, did summer school a couple of times, and suddenly had the choice to either accelerate my graduation date or slow things down. Since I want to go to law school, which is another three years of school, I figured I might as well speed things up. It has been the best decision for me.

I chose History because I just love history. I came in wanting to be an Accounting major. Most of my family are CPAs. But during orientation, I felt unsure about that decision. I spoke with my family who told me to major in something I love, so I decided to switch to history. And I've loved it ever since. It has been the best. I love all my classes, all the professors. I just cannot recommend it enough. I did end up minoring in business which involved taking a class in financial accounting, and I was correct, accounting is not for me. However, I have loved all my business classes.

What got you interested in history?

In middle school, I hated history. The teacher just read out the text of the slides he showed. It was boring, and I dreaded going to class. Then I hit ninth grade, and we got Mr. Burmeister. He was the best teacher ever. He stood up and taught history like it was a collection of stories, he made history fun. I took more classes with him throughout high school, and I came to really like history and the law. Now I am a History major applying to law school.

Why did you choose this senior seminar class? 

My soon-to-be sister-in-law, also a History major, did her senior seminar with Dr. Frank on FSU and the Seminole tribe and loved it. She suggested that I take something similar, so when I looked at the fall list of senior seminars, Dr. Conti’s stood out as being on American architecture. I looked her up to see what work she had done, and it was really interesting on plantations and public history. Her work was cool, so I thought the class was going to be cool. I like American history, and architecture is a huge part of it.

What project did you work on?

My senior seminar project was on Doak Campbell Stadium. I started off wanting to do a local history of Madison, FL, because of family connections. But I quickly realized that there were not enough sources. Dr. Conti helped me change to working on how going to a game at FSU’s football stadium produces an experience for the fans. That meant also at looking at how FSU became the football school it is today.

The main focus of my paper was on the period from the 1950s to the 1990s. FSU did not have a football team while it was a college for women, but it did have one at the beginning of the 20th century. Football came back when the college became FSU in 1947. The stadium was not built until 1950, and it has been renovated and expanded multiple times. The first stadium had 15,000 seats.

What really fascinated me was the relationship between academics and athletics. Money received from athletics was used to fund both faculty and students. Both the Eminent Scholars Program, which allowed FSU to hire notable academics and other scholarship programs to attract gifted undergraduates came from proceeds of football games.

Was it easy to get started with a project like this?

Every week, Dr. Conti assigned us some articles to read and a podcast episode to listen to. We would discuss this in class. The episodes linked directly to the stage we were in with our project, from how to find a topic, how to research it, how to write etc. We discussed the material in class, and it helped me think about the doing or making of history more broadly.

When I started working on the history of the stadium, I saw that there were so many sources, it was overwhelming. I contacted Special Collections, and they provided me with eight boxes of primary sources all to do with the stadium! I went to the Pepper Center to look through the material. I took a lot of pictures, and I had to be careful to keep track of what image came from what file. I took a picture of the box, then a picture of the folder, and then pictures of the documents inside it. In the main, I looked at correspondence and minutes of meetings, but I also found old homecoming programs and tickets. At the end of that day, I had collected about 90% of the material that I needed to write my paper.

Was it hard to write such a long paper?

When I got in the classroom on the first day, Dr. Conti asked: How are y'all feeling? What are your thoughts on writing a paper this long? And everybody in the class looked overwhelmed.

I had never written a paper this long before, and I did not know how to tackle it. I ended up planning it like a normal paper, just with the sections being longer, with a lot of paragraphs. I let the different things I wanted to write about lead me from topic to topic. From fans to tickets, from academics to scholarships, from Doak Campbell in the 1950s to the stadium today. And when I stopped writing, I had got to about 5,500 words, and there was still a lot that I could have mentioned but I had no more space.

Normally, I do all my research first, and then I sit down to write. But with this paper I could not do that. I remember being in Dr. Conti’s office the day before a draft section was due and telling her that this was not how I write my papers. But she said that I needed to start writing, and that I would not be able to do all my research in advance. And she was right. I began jotting down my ideas, then adding in sources. I would write a paragraph, then skip others. I left blank spaces with notes on what to add in later. And in the end, I came to 5,500 words and I was astounded.

This is how I will be writing my papers from here on out, it was so foreign to me in the beginning, but it now makes complete sense.

What advice would you give to students who are about to take the senior seminar?

I would say it is not as scary as it seems, and it is actually very interesting and fun. It will occupy a lot of your time. But it is worth it.  I had never taken a class before where you spend an entire semester working on one topic.  That is a really different experience.

You have to pick a topic that you love. But also, a topic that has a lot of good information. As I discovered with my first topic that I really wanted to do – I could not because of the absence of sources.  This is not a paper where the professor provides you with the research material. They will guide you, but you have to find the material by yourself.

If you could go back to the beginning of the semester, what would you do differently?

There is the classic advice: Do not wait so close to the deadlines before getting started with your work. I was guilty of this at the start of the class, but, thankfully, success was still possible, good luck to my fellow procrastinators.

The second thing I would tell myself is to go for the stadium as a topic straight away. I just did not even think about it. Yes, I knew it was there, but I did not look at it from an architectural point of view. It was football, not a senior seminar topic.

Any final thoughts?

I ended up loving the senior seminar more than I thought I would. I knew it was going to be a lot of work and having spoken to friends that had taken it, they said it was a lot too.  Yet, they always felt very accomplished that they had produced this long paper, especially since it usually was on some cool topic that they kept talking about.

I never stuck with a topic for that long. The whole experience of going to the archives, looking at all these documents, taking pictures … it was really fun. And I shared my findings with my grandfather who went to FSU and loves all things FSU football.