Alumni Profiles

Emily Belland, 2020

Emily Belland
“What a wonderful time in my life it was.” Emily Belland graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor’s Degree in History.

History and I found each other at BSU. I had been admitted first, not as a history major, but as a social studies education major, in the hopes of teaching young middle and high schoolers American history. However, the social studies education major made me nervous at the same time because I was concerned I would spend my life teaching the other social sciences (geography, economics, or political science). This concern drove me to pick up a history minor in the spring of 2018.

I still remember my first meeting with my academic advisor, Dr. Ellis. His reputation of being among the top professors at Bemidji freaked me out a little bit and I wasn’t sure what someone who had that prestige would be like. I pictured someone stuck-up who didn’t care about freshman. This couldn’t be further from the truth. During the meeting he asked me if I would consider taking one of his classes because he liked having his advises in his class. His Civil War class changed my life. Dr. Ellis always gave enthralling and meaningful lectures and I read documents from the associated time period – something I had never done previously. I even wrote a history paper! It was by far my best experience with history in a classroom. Unsurprisingly, I decided to major in history as a sophomore.

That May, I won the Dewitt C. Dunham Scholarship, an annual scholarship awarded to a number of history majors. I began toying with the idea of dropping the social studies education major and completing a history undergraduate with the goal of going to graduate school and ultimately teaching history to college students like myself. I remembered Dr. Allosso had recently completed his doctorate degree and I decided to ask him about graduate school. He offered to meet with me at 8 am the next morning. As much as hated waking up at 7 am to be there in time, the support and information I got was invaluable. He helped me solidify my decision and made me feel like I could belong at graduate school. I decided to commit to the history department during my junior year at BSU.

Once I decided to become a professor myself, it was like I had found my calling. I knew it was where I belonged. The department believed in me, like they do for all their students. Everyone supported one another and were always there for each other. During my senior year, when I needed help with my thesis I asked fellow senior Dan, if he’d be willing to let me look at his thesis so I could ensure my formatting was correct. He sent me his final draft without hesitation and when I thanked him he told me it was no problem. “We history majors help each other,” he said. And he was right, we do.

Another example of this was when I wanted to start a club on campus for the history department. My fellow history buffs were happy and excited to join. Melissa, who was also a major-changer who had migrated toward history over time, helped me form the club and we spent hours choosing the first readings and formatting flyers. The history club helped me form a great reading group that has supplemented the major, where we discuss anything related to history, historiography, and even the news with both classmates and teachers.

During my senior year I participated in the McNair Scholars Program. I got help studying for the GRE, a paid summer research opportunity, and was flown to Miami, FL to attend a conference with fellow McNair scholars where we shared our summer research. When I decided to commit to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Masters program in history, the entire McNair program and history department were all excited for me.

Some of my favorite memories at BSU were in the classrooms, including when Dr. Ellis gave us his opinions of any given major city in the United States. Or when Dr. Allosso included a series of photos of John Calhoun’s deteriorating appearance on U.S History II slides. Being a TA for both Dr. Allosso and Dr. Ellis was a great experience as well. I was able to see first-hand different aspects of what being a professor means and each of them gave me different insights. One of my favorite moments was when I completed my senior thesis. My semester-turned-year long research project documented the ability for African American educators to teach Black History to their students during the Great Depression in the face of oppression. Unfortunately we don’t do dedication pages for our theses at BSU, but let this last thought be meaningful; I know that if I had written out acknowledgements, the page would have been full of the names of people at Bemidji State University. I know it’s cheesy and obvious to say that Bemidji State was the best decision ever, but it was the most life changing, and my life changed for the better.

Daniel Scharfenberg, 2020

Bemidji State University offers an excellent History program and boasts an outstanding Humanities Department. My experience at BSU was an informative one to say the very least. The history professors in specific offer a variety of courses beyond the basic history classes for your general education, including People and the Environment, Minnesota History, Tudor-Stuart England, Religion in America, and Medieval History to name a few. Besides history there is a vast wealth of knowledge to learn from the many other disciplines at BSU including Geography, Politics, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Economics. The faculty at BSU will always answer any questions you have about courses or majors you are interested in, so do not hesitate to ask or look for help. The campus boasts many sources for research purposes for a variety of classes including online journals and articles, the A.C. Clark library, and the microfiche room; as well as the local Beltrami County Historical Society. The library also offers interlibrary loans which is great if you are writing your thesis as a history major. If you are simply taking general education courses to start out or are looking for a program with many in depth professors with a variety of backgrounds look no further than Bemidji State University. I personally started out as a Social Studies Education major but ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History and plan on attending graduate school and working in the museum field in the near future. I cannot recommend Bemidji State University highly enough for its strong humanities staff, fast paced and informative courses and excellent location in the Northwoods of Minnesota.

Caleb Curfman, 2017

I attended Bemidji State University beginning in the fall of 2014 and immediately connected with the knowledgable and passionate professors and peers in the History program there. I thoroughly enjoyed the source-based learning that happened through engaging lectures, discussions, and large scale projects such as my undergraduate thesis. After completing my History B.S. at Bemidji State, I earned my History M.A. at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. My time at BSU prepared me greatly for this next step in my academic journey. The small class sizes and availability of help and resources made Bemidji State University’s History B.S. program the “best decision ever”. I am currently the History instructor at Northland Community and Technical College. My research interests are Early America, Native American History, The American Civil War, and the American West.

Maria Schommer, 2016

I really enjoyed my time at Bemidji State and for this positive experience I largely credit my experience with the excellent history program available to those pursuing a social studies path. The history program at Bemidji State University challenged me to think about history from new perspectives while exploring major themes across time periods. The faculty helped me to grow my knowledge and appreciation for the past by delivering lessons and lectures packed with outstanding resources. The passion exhibited by the faculty for their disciplines is evident and engages students in productive and respectful conversation that extends well beyond the lecture hall. I could not have asked for a better experience during my undergraduate studies.

After graduating from Bemidji State I followed a career in education that began in my hometown of Pequot Lakes, MN. From there I moved to the Twin Cities and found employment in the Spring Lake Park School District, first with a long-term substitute position at Westwood Middle School and later working at Spring Lake Park High School for two years before settling into my current position within the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Jason Decker, 2014

My experience at Bemidji allowed me to explore a multitude of historical periods, a passion which I am still pursuing. I am currently enrolled in the History MA program at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and plan to graduate in the Fall of 2021. My Master’s thesis will explore the Constitutional Convention. I plan to use this degree to teach more advanced courses at the high school level or perhaps teach in a post-secondary setting. The excellent education, support, and encouragement I found in the history program at Bemidji State has allowed me to take the next steps to advance my career goals beyond what I had previously thought possible.

I’ve always had a deep affinity for history. Happily this affinity has dovetailed well with my educational and professional goals. While finishing my associate’s degree, I decided that I wanted to pursue a law degree focusing on federal Indian law, which relies heavily on the study of history. I enrolled in BSU’s History Program in the fall of 2012. It was a wonderful experience. I was able to take courses in all of my interest areas, including American history, Native American history, law, and philosophy. The professors were knowledgeable, thought-provoking, approachable, and encouraging.

After BSU, I enrolled in Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Indian Law Program and completed my Juris Doctor in 2017. I served as an editor of the school’s academic journal, worked in the Indian Law Program’s law clinic, and was President of the school’s Native American Law Student Association—all accomplishments made possible by my time at BSU. After passing the bar, I went to work at a boutique Indian law firm in Saint Paul, MN. In my career I’ve worked with historians serving as expert witnesses, spent hours in research at the National Archives, and learned how to integrate these historical perspectives into my legal arguments. These skills still serve me well in my current position as an in-house attorney for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. I am truly grateful for my time at BSU. It expanded my worldview and helped prepare me for my eventual legal career.

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