Amelia Noel-Elkins '92
Position: College Director
Thesis Title: “Religious and Practical Implications of James I’s 1618 Book of Sports”
20+ years after my History classes at Harvard, I use the skills I learned from those classes every day in my work. The majority of my professional career has been spent working in Higher Education. I was an Associate Athletic Director at Indiana University and I currently work as the Director of University College at Illinois State University. Academic advising is an integral part of my job and one of the most common questions I get from students is: “What can I do with this major?” My students are amazed that my studies in Medieval/Early Modern English History helped me develop a career in Athletics and in Higher Education.
I tell students, and their parents, that it is not so much what I studied in college as the transferable skills I gained from studying History at Harvard. The additional lesson to my students is to study what you love because that is what will lead you to success in life. Daily, I see students struggling in an academic discipline because it is what they (or their parents!) think they should study; if they followed their passion, the grades would come easier. And if the grades come easier, graduate school and/or jobs come easier. In graduate school, some of my classmates had never written a paper longer than five pages or read more than 10-15 pages per week for their college classes. My academic preparation (substantial weekly readings, essay exams, and 15-20 page papers) was a distinct contrast. While I was ahead of the game in graduate school, it took a lot of work in college to get me there.
I vividly remember my first step in writing my thesis: I submitted the first 20 pages and was relieved with such a good start on this massive undertaking. The next week, I walked into Professor Mark Kishlansky’s office and he said to me, “This is a good start. But it needs to be about 5 pages long, not 20.” That day (and the days/weeks that followed) I learned how to write. Writing a dissertation was less daunting because I had written a thesis in college; critically reading dense journal articles was less daunting because I spent an academic year learning how to critically read King James I’s Book of Sports; standing my ground with a head football coach was less daunting because I had done it intellectually with my peers in discussion sections. Studying History gave me the basis I needed to be successful in my career and the skills I learned in my History classes are invaluable each and every day.