In CLIO, history majors find a community of like-minded learners

When Caitlyn Hahn was young, her father would make up bedtime stories with historical themes. One night, he would tell her a tale about ancient Egyptians. Another, he would tell stories about life in
When Caitlyn Hahn was young, her father would make up bedtime stories with historical themes. One night, he would tell her a tale about ancient Egyptians. Another, he would tell stories about life in the 1940s and '50s.

"They weren't historically accurate, but they were fun stories," says Hahn, a Belleville, Essex County resident, whose father died when she was in seventh grade. "He got me interested in both history and writing."

When she began her studies this fall at Rowan University, Hahn, a history major, felt right at home in the University's Mimosa Hall. Just like her growing-up years, Hahn, at Rowan, is surrounded by fellow history enthusiasts through her participation in the University's CLIO (Community of Learning in Operation) program.

A new learning community at Rowan, CLIO is comprised of 20 freshman history majors who live on the same residence hall floor and attend two classes together each semester. The program runs for four semesters?or the first half of a history major's undergraduate career.

Named after Clio, the classical muse of history, the program, which began this fall, creates a "nurturing atmosphere" for history majors, introducing them to a "scholarly environment of historical research, debate and discussion," according to Rowan history professor Bill Carrigan, CLIO's adviser.

Students involved with CLIO have smaller class sizes which allow for more in-class give-and-take with their professor...and each other. Additionally, students, who are paired with mentors who are history upperclassmen, are encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities related to the field of history, including field trips, guest lectures, seminars, and study abroad opportunities, according to Carrigan.

An over-arching goal of the program is to provide passionate history majors with the strong foundation they need to thrive in the field, Carrigan notes.

During a recent class, Carrigan gave CLIO class members a lesson in historical research before launching into a discussion regarding Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831.

"Historians, themselves, give original interpretations of primary sources. That's how you impress other historians," Carrigan told the class as he discussed an upcoming assignment.

Brian Kenny, a history and secondary education major from Mount Holly who wants to be a history teacher or professor in the future, got all of that...and more.

"If we write a sufficiently awesome paper, will you help us publish it?" Kenny asked.

"Yes," Carrigan replied. "The first step is to present research at a conference. But, if it's sufficiently great, don't worry. I'll help you expand it."

"Sweet!" Kenny exclaimed.

The interchange between freshman and professor that CLIO encourages excites Carrigan, whose research interests include race and ethnicity in 19th century America.

"Enthusiasm is the most important factor in teaching," Carrigan says. "CLIO enriches my teaching. It keeps me excited about teaching.

"I assume, down the road, that some of the CLIO students will go on to graduate school. And I'm sure many of them will do advanced work at the undergraduate level.

"These students love history," adds Carrigan, who has already had lunch?and even played racquetball?with CLIO students. "They don't think history is uncool at all."

That's true for both Hahn and Kenny. Hahn, who is drawn to medieval studies and hopes to study abroad in England, plans a career working in a museum.

She chose Rowan in part because of the friendliness of the campus and because of the strength of the history program, which boasts 450 majors.

"I like the small classes," Hahn says. "We're all actually pretty close. History is cool to us."

"It drives you to work harder when you're in a room of people who are all interested in what you're learning. There's none of the subversive, 'This is stupid. Why am I learning this?' element," Kenny adds.

While CLIO isn't the first learning community at Rowan?the University also has four learning communities in all, including one for undeclared majors-- the program is the first that extends for two years. A new radio/television/film community also began this year.

"Learning communities are successful because they provide support to help students adjust academically and socially," says Joanne Damminger, who seeks to increase the number of learning communities across campus in her role as executive assistant to Rowan's Vice President for Student Affairs. Damminger also serves as coordinator of Visions of the Future, the five-year-old learning community for undeclared students.

"Research shows that when students make a connection with another peer or a faculty member, they're more likely to remain in college," she adds. "Those connections are the primary factors that influence students' decisions to stay in school."

Clearly, Hahn has felt that connection?to her professors and her peers.

"The program sets you up with people who really care about you," she says.