Cal Poly’s history department will kick off its new master’s of arts degree in January, a program that offers concentrations in American, European, Asian, Latin American and African history.
“We’ve felt pretty strongly that, given our geographic location, it was really important for us to give the people in our area the option to pursue a master’s degree in history,” said history department chair Carolyn Stefanco. “Otherwise, the closest place to go is Santa Barbara, and not everybody wants to make that trip on a regular basis.”
Five years in the making, the master’s program was created in response to increasing local interest. George Cotkin, a Cal Poly history professor and the graduate program coordinator, also added that recent resources made available in the department helped with the advancement of the program.
“Popular demand and internal realities made this a possible direction,” Cotkin said.
The department, which is already recruiting new professors for its undergraduate program, plans to add three new hires and hopes the graduate program will add to Cal Poly’s appeal.
“It’s become increasingly difficult for Cal Poly and the history department to recruit faculty. We are a great university, we’ve got a great department, but the cost of living – and the cost of housing in particular – prohibits many people from taking a job here,” Stefanco said. “So we need some other things to fill in on the plus column for Cal Poly.”
Stefanco added that professors generally love the idea of assisting graduate students along their academic career.
“Most faculty, when they’re going to graduate school, they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I want to work in a place where I can train graduate students,’ and so without a graduate program, it was just one more thing that made it difficult for us to recruit,” Stefanco said.
In the midst of their search, no new professors have been added to the history department’s faculty just yet, but Cotkin is thrilled at the prospect.
“It’s kind of an exciting moment to bring new blood in the department,” he said. “I imagine they would love to teach in the grad program as well.”
There is also a goal to further educate Central Coast teachers, Stefanco said.
“For me, I’m really personally concerned about people teaching history and social studies in the public schools who don’t have degrees in history,” Stefanco said.
Stefanco also sees it as a way for the department to retain students.
“We made a conscious decision a few years ago that we were going to keep the social science credential program in our department that prepares teachers,” she said. “In the past, we have lost some of our best students, who wanted to become teachers, to other schools in the state of California because if they went to a different school, they could get a teaching credential and get a master’s at the same time – we couldn’t do that for them at Cal Poly. With this, they’ll be able to do that.”
But the program isn’t just aimed at teachers and history graduates.
“What I always tell people is, there’s a History Channel. You could pick a lot of other majors – and I don’t want to name them – but there’s no channel for their major,” Stefanco said, laughing. “And because there’s a History Channel, we know there’s a tremendous interest in the public at large whether it’s buying books, or watching television or movies in the theater. There’s a lot of people who live here and they want to pursue what they’re interested in.”
This is also why the history department plans to offer many of its graduate courses later in the day.
“We definitely are gearing up the program to people who already have a job or have commitments during the day.” Stefanco said. “That’s why we made the commitment to offer classes after 4, to make it possible for those people to go to school.”
The history department anticipates most of its students will be part-time.
With the program set to begin in January, the department has already received nearly a dozen applicants and even more inquires. The application deadline for winter quarter is Nov. 1 and Jan. 15 for the spring quarter.