The UROP Experience at FSU History: Working for the Rosenstrasse Foundation

Fri, 08/05/22
The four UROP students working for the Rosenstrasse Foundation

The mission of the Rosenstrasse Foundation is to commemorate, encourage, and educate about civil courage--concrete actions in opposition to injustice and human rights violations. The Foundation seeks to defend the values of a pluralistic society. The Foundation takes its name from the Rosenstrasse Protest in central Berlin in early 1943, in which non-Jewish women married to Jewish men defied Hitler’s regime to protest the imprisonment of their husbands, leading to the men’s release. The Foundation is dedicated to the development of knowledge about this and other acts of women-led defiance, as well as acts of civil courage more generally.

The RF was established by Dr. Nathan Stoltzfus, professor of History at FSU, and others in 2018. Dr. Stoltzfus researches political violence and nonviolence, as well as the Holocaust. Over the last few years, the RF has hosted a number of UROP students. There are several groups within the RF UROP project: maintaining the website, social media, and fundraising; writing biographies; maintaining Wikipedia pages; and doing genealogy research. Students apply to the project and can choose which group they would like to work in.

FSU History spoke with four of them: Mary Moshos, a rising second-year student, majoring in Flute Performance, Madison Bogert, a rising third-year Social Work major, who started as a Nursing major, Trey Cochenour, a junior, transfer student who is double-majoring in Psychology and Criminology, and Michelle Beebe, a sophomore who is majoring in Social Studies Education.

What drew you to this project?

Mary: I have always loved history, and I am thinking about minoring in History. I was drawn to the RF project, its message of “civil courage,” and its purpose of making instances of civil courage more well known. I wanted to be a part of that.

Madison: I don’t know much about history, and it was certainly not a subject I enjoyed in high school. I am more of a math and science person. The reason I chose to work on the RF is that my grandma was born and raised in Germany just after WW II. I wanted to know more about the country that she came from. I also thought it would be good for me to go out of my comfort zone and do something non-STEM.

Trey: I have always been a huge history buff, but my interest was especially focused on WWII and Germany. In 8th grade, we talked about WWII, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust in an English class. Additionally, we went to Washington, D.C. that same year and I visited the Holocaust Museum. Those two things sparked my interest in history.

Michelle: I have always loved history. When we were driving, my father would talk to me about history, and it was super fascinating. I had never heard about this event before, and I wanted to learn more about it. I want to share my love for History with my students.

How did you find out about UROP?

Madison: A friend of mine did UROP in her freshman year. After watching her participate, I decided to apply too. I looked at several projects, both within my then-majors, Nursing, but also in Physics. I expanded my search, and when I interviewed with Dr. Stoltzfus I connected with him as a mentor right away.

It is important to like the UROP project you select, but it is also very important to be able to work with the mentor of the project. I ended up taking Dr. Stoltzfus’ upper-division class on Weimar and Nazi Germany as well. If you had told me in high school that I would take an upper-level history class that was heavy in writing – and would enjoy it, I wouldn’t have believed you. UROP taught me to keep an open mind and keep pushing my comfort zone boundaries.

Mary: I read about it in the newsletter of the Honors program. They were encouraging students to do research, and I had not had an opportunity to do that before. In high school, we had done little projects, but nothing of major significance. I wanted to get a professional introduction to a topic like this. I also felt that it would supplement my studies in the College of Music. It would expose me to new topics.

Michelle: I did UROP my freshmen year with the RF, and I continued as a volunteer for the last year. I had done research in high school, and I wanted to continue at college. I looked at History and Education projects. I applied to about five.

What project team did you work in?

Trey: My job was to make the RF more well known. I worked with the website team and was involved with building and maintaining the website. I was taught how to build and edit the Wix website, as well as some training in social media. I also learned about working with Wikipedia and doing genealogical research.

Madison: I worked as part of the fundraising and social media team. I designed and ran two Go Fund Me campaigns: one to get a full subscription to for all the members of the genealogy team. The other was to upgrade to the full-access, premium Wix website, which will allow us to customize the URL and provide us with google ad support.

I had some previous experience in fund-raising but doing that for the RF proved harder than I thought because the Foundation wasn’t that well known. I learned very quickly that you had to keep putting the message out in order to meet the fundraising goals.

Mary: I was a part of the biographies and social media/ fundraising teams. As part of the biographies team, I wrote entries on different people involved in the Rosenstrasse protests and edited other biographies made by the team. We relied on the work done by the genealogy team (who did the major research), but sometimes people would reach out to us with primary source material linking them to the Rosenstrasse event and we would write their biographical entries too.

Some weeks, I spent more time on writing biographies, in other weeks, social media took over. I responded to what was needed most for the week. I worked on the LinkedIn page and created digital business cards for the RF team. I also did some editing work on the website. 

Michelle: When I started, we did a lot of work editing Wikipedia articles, and we did a lot of genealogical research. This year, I focused solely on genealogical research. For my training, I was told what parameters to use when conducting research, how to access and navigate the various websites. I am making training videos now to help other students learn how to use and search different websites successfully, and how to enter information in a spreadsheet.

What type of research did you do?

Trey: It was my job to add biography pages to the website. We also added documents, pictures, videos, and book titles that will help visitors understand the material better. Our main audience at the RF are older individuals, specifically people who are related to those who took part in the original event. Because of that, our aim is to make the website as accessible as possible. It was interesting to see that once we added in social media, the traffic on the website increased. That was a very rewarding experience.

Michelle: We have the list of all the people involved in the protests, and we accessed ancestry-related websites to find their descendants. The aim is to contact them, make them aware that one of their ancestors had been involved in the Rosenstrasse event, and see if they have any information. We have just started reaching out.

What was the most challenging part of the UROP project?

Madison: The beginning of the project. As someone who had not done any research before, and did not know much about the project, getting started was difficult. It was scary not quite knowing what to do, what to expect.

Finding the right team was a second challenge. I tried out two different teams within the RF project, genealogy as well as fundraising and social media. I had thought that genealogy would be a good fit, but I quickly discovered that I had more fun with the fundraising aspect and concentrated on that.

Mary: I think communications. We did not meet regularly in person until the spring semester because of Covid, but also because of the widely varying schedules. It was difficult to gather everyone in one place. That made the project less concrete, and I wasn’t always sure what everybody else was doing and how it fit all together.

Michelle: The hardest part is finding a balance between homework and the research project. Time management, definitely.

Trey: The hardest part was setting up a registered student organization (RSO) at FSU for the Rosenstrasse. It took time to get all the RF students organized and to navigate the paperwork. But come fall, we will have a Rosenstrasse RSO on campus.

What was your favorite part about the UROP experience?

Madison: Meeting new people. Because of Covid, it was hard to meet people during my freshman year. I am shy and so it wasn’t easy for me to just go ahead and join clubs on campus. UROP allowed me to meet a range of other students – from all different majors, and to work together with them on a project we all enjoyed. This made my experience at FSU so much better; UROP showed me what all one can do at the university.

Michelle: I love the project. I loved learning about different people. It is like being a detective. I collected all the information on people and then assemble the pieces like a puzzle. And then, whenever we could match a name on our list with information discovered on ancestry websites, I felt: “This is not just a name anymore, it is a real person.” Finding ‘real people’ has been very rewarding.

Reading the stories of the women involved in this protest is so inspiring. I did not know anything about this event but working for the RF has opened my eyes. History includes so many stories that go untold. That does not make the people in question any less important. It just means that they haven’t been in the spotlight yet. For me as a teacher, bringing all the stories to life will be very important.

Trey: I enjoyed all of it. Doing the research was fun, I met a lot of people, made connections. All of that was great.

What is your advice for students who are interested in UROP?

Trey: Do it. It is so worth it. Especially, if you want to do research. I want to do research in Psychology, and this helped me understand the process so much better. It is also a good way to meet people, to meet other students and professors. The UROP program is well structured and thus perfect for incoming students.

Mary: Look broadly at all the UROP projects on offer. Don’t just stick with something within your major or expected program of study. Find something you really want to do, because if you care about the topic, you will have a rewarding experience.

Madison: I am glad that I picked a project outside of my major, I learned a lot more that way. There are many opportunities at FSU for doing research, working with mentors, and that made my time at university so much better. UROP is a great way to help with the transition to university.

Mary: UROP is what you make of it. If you are not really enthused about the project you are working on, then you will not get that much out of the UROP experience.

Michelle: Try it! There are so many different projects, you will surely find one that feels right to you. And even if it is not your first choice, you will always learn more.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice?

Trey: I would tell myself not to give up during the initial application process. When I applied to be a part of UROP, I got a lot of rejections. At least ten. I was super worried about finding a project to work on. With hindsight, I would reassure myself that I will find a project.

Michelle: Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. It is always easy to say, ‘I should do more.’ But at the end of the day, you want to lead a balanced life, and as long as you are diligent, you will do well.

Mary: Don’t be intimidated about reaching out to the faculty mentors. I was a bit timid in the beginning in asking questions, especially since I wasn’t a History major. So, I would tell myself: don’t be hesitant in talking to the professors.

Madison: Don’t stress about things. Working in a team was good, and having many students work on the same project, created a good atmosphere. Dr. Stoltzfus and Liam Wirsansky, the project manager, ran the project more as a joint venture than as students having a contractual obligation to do research. That made me and others want to continue beyond the UROP semesters.

Are you going to continue working for the RF?

Madison: Yes, I am going to continue volunteering for the RF. I will be the treasurer of the Rossenstrasse RSO too.

Trey: I am going to continue working for the RF until graduation in spring 2023.

Michelle: Next year, I will be the genealogy lead for the RF!

Mary: I am most certainly going to continue volunteering for the RF next year and have been appointed the Social Media Lead for the Rosenstrasse RSO.