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Prestigious Fellowship Awarded to History Program Alumna

Wed, 06/02/2021 - 16:55pm | By: David Tisdale

Kristen McGuire University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast (USM) History program graduate Kristen McGuire of Biloxi, Mississippi has earned a James Madison Graduate Fellowship, a highly selective and prestigious national award that will aid her work as a teacher with a Mississippi Gulf Coast high school and in securing a graduate degree in history.

The James Madison Fellowship goes to teachers or those who plan to teach secondary education U.S. History and/or U.S. Government, and wish to also pursue a master’s degree in history, or a master’s degree that includes content areas in history and American government. It is presented by the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation to only one individual per state annually.

The program includes an all-expenses paid trip to D.C. this summer for a four-week course at Georgetown University that focuses on the principles, framing, ratification and implementation of our constitutional government, along with visits to important sites related to the history of the U.S. Constitution in and around Washington, D.C.

“I’m so incredibly honored to receive this fellowship,” McGuire said. “It reinforces my desire to teach and be involved in history education. This will have a major impact on my teaching, giving me experiences and knowledge that will be invaluable to my students.” 

McGuire’s work as a teacher began as a substitute instructor at Biloxi High School before transitioning into a full-time position at the school for the 2021/2022 school year. Next year, she will work as a Mild to Moderate Inclusion teacher in Biloxi High’s special education department, helping students with disabilities who struggle with history, though she will work with those in all subject areas.

“When I first went to Biloxi High to work, I wanted to go to graduate school while I was working but was having trouble paying for any graduate program. I didn't want to put myself more in debt. A teacher at Biloxi High School, Ms. Hayley Whitehead, told me that she got her Master's in History paid for through the James Madison Fellowship award several years ago. I had never heard of the award.

“I was excited at the prospect of this fellowship and instantly went online to find more information. The fact it is awarded to only one person in each state was daunting, but I knew my chances were high given my experience and CV. The application was very large and required several essays about experiences and teaching philosophies.”

McGuire said the key essay question for the application was ‘Why is it so important to teach U.S. government and the U.S. Constitution at a secondary education level?’ and believes her response helped earn her the fellowship. She responded with specific research she completed at USM as an undergraduate, and included observations from her time in Russia, where she lived and worked for 16 months teaching English at a foreign language school in Moscow after graduating from the university; McGuire noted that her perception of Russia’s democracy is that it isn't as strong as that of the U.S.A.’s in part because of a lack of government or constitutional education courses offered in the nation’s secondary education system.

While in Moscow, McGuire’s innovative work in the classroom included a supplemental course on U.S. History she designed using history memes, which received such a positive response that she has taught the class remotely since returning to the U.S.

At USM, McGuire won first place in the Undergraduate Research Symposium’s History, Heritage, and Legacies category along with the Virginia Culpepper Memorial Award.  Later, her article “The Blacklist Curtain Call,” which investigated Hollywood’s resistance to McCarthyism in the 1950s, was accepted for publication in the university’s undergraduate research journal The Catalyst

She gives much credit to the USM History program, and the support and inspiration of its faculty mentors, for her academic and career successes to date. 

“My professor and advisor, Dr. Douglas Bristol, always pushed me to be a great writer and offered to look over my essay for the fellowship and give advice on how to improve it,” she said. “I also received incredible letters of recommendation from Dr. Bristol, Dr. Heather Stur, and Dr. Westley Follett. I can never thank them enough for their recommendations and advice during my undergraduate years, and after.”  

With such an outstanding record of achievement that now includes the James Madison Fellowship, Dr. Bristol said he’s obviously not the only person impressed by McGuire.

“It was thrilling to work with such an ambitious and hard-working student,” he said. “When she wanted to learn about Russia, she simply decided to find a way to go there and got a job teaching English in Moscow; she loved it, and the students loved her.

“At the same time, I appreciated how gregarious she is, always laughing and meeting new people. That is quite a rare combination.” 

For information about the USM History program, which is housed in the USM College of Arts and Sciences’ School of Humanities, visit https://www.usm.edu/humanities/index.php.