Professor, Department of History
What year did you start working at NIU?
Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
Mercer Island, WA; Sycamore, IL
Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
B.A., Pomona College; M.A. and Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
In which department(s) do you teach?
What do you like about working at NIU?
NIU is a great fit for me. It is a public research university with a diverse student body. In a lot of ways, the history department has the best of both worlds—we have great M.A. and Ph.D. students and get to work directly with undergraduate students in relatively small classes where you can do good work. I have brilliant and productive colleagues who are also friends. There's a nice, grounded sense of community here.
What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
I would urge students to be curious, to immerse themselves in the opportunities that a university provides. Be open to learning new things and following the interests that develop from those experiences.
Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I had the pleasure of working with my former doctoral student, Mat Billings, on his dissertation on Irish emigration and Irish-American politics in the first half of the 19th century. Mat won an award for the project and is now working at the University of Indianapolis. We have a book coming out in the fall on the Irish in Illinois.
What do you hope students take away from your class?
I always tell students on the first day of class that I want to help them learn how to read and write. My classes are designed to help students improve their ability to read and understand scholarly arguments and material from the historical record. I try to work closely with students on their research and writing.
What is your favorite campus event?
It's definitely the annual conference of the History Graduate Student Association. It's a celebration of what we do, a chance to see NIU grad students present their work to faculty and students from across the region.
What is your favorite memory of NIU?
It's probably the wedding of my colleague, Ismael Montana. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be out on the lawn by the lagoon. There was a real sense of community; a nice chance to celebrate Ismael and Dzifa with family and friends.
Who has influenced your professional path?
Far too many people to list. My parents, of course, and a number of former teachers in junior high, high school and college.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
A pretty standard story: Growing up, I wanted to play baseball and/or be a rock star. I couldn't hit a curveball and my songs haven't threatened the charts yet. I went to Pomona College thinking I wanted to be a doctor like my dad, but my freshman biology class ended that dream. I took a political science course on Northern Ireland and was hooked on Irish history.
Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am a past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies. The organization has been a key part of my life. Conferences give me a chance to present my own research and introduce my graduate students to my brilliant colleagues and friends from across the world.
What community organizations are you involved in?
I've coached AYSO soccer in Sycamore for the past five years. Our new travel team, the Kishwaukee Valley Soccer Club, was set to start this spring, and I'm hoping we can get back on the field in the fall.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
Most people who know me would agree that relaxing is not a strength. I do love playing music with friends and soccer with my son.