Justin Eckilson ’14 (Woonsocket, RI), a History major and French minor, was honored repeatedly at year’s end. Graduating summa cum laude, Eckilson won the History Department Award, the Fr. Stephen E. Parent, OSB Award, Delta Epsilon Sigma, Tau Chapter, and the Chancellor’s Award for the highest GPA in the graduating class. One Thing after Another was tempted to entitle this post “Eckilson Cleans House” or “Eckilson Hits Home Run,” but doing so would not be in keeping with Eckilson’s essential modesty. One Thing after Another caught up with this remarkable, newly minted alum shortly after graduation and let him tell his own story.
Q: What brought you to Saint Anselm College? When and why did you decide to become a history major?
I went to a small, Catholic high school and wanted a similar environment in college. I was drawn to Saint Anselm College because of its vibrant sense of community, close student-faculty relationships, and, most important, its strong academic reputation. My four years at Saint A’s have exceeded my expectations in these regards. I cannot speak highly enough of the students, faculty, staff, and overall education I found at Saint A’s. I have become a better student because of the rigorous academic coursework and the dedicated faculty and staff. I initially entered college as an undeclared major, unsure of what I wanted to do. I always liked history in high school, so I signed up for history courses my freshman year. I liked the classes and the professors so much that I became a history major at the beginning of my sophomore year and have never looked back. For me, studying history is extremely important because no event, no person, no place develops in a vacuum. Everything happens within a context, and in history, we are able to study, understand, and analyze those contexts. Not only does studying history give us the tools to understand the past, it helps us to understand the present. Current events, like historical events, exist within a context, and we need historical thinking and awareness to make sense of these current events. In a broad sense, history allows us to understand what was, what is, and what will be.
Q: You did a number of history-related internships during your time here. What were they, and what were your responsibilities?
During my time at Saint A’s, I had history-related internships with the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, a unit of the National Park Service in southern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island; the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, RI, a museum that covers the industrial and Franco-American heritage of the city; and the Alva de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center, the art gallery right on campus. At the Heritage Corridor, I worked on a nation-wide NPS program that sought to tell local Civil War stories through the use of Civil War Trading War. The Corridor created five trading cards of important Civil War figures from the Blackstone River Valley, which included abolitionist, reformer, and suffragist Abby Kelley Foster and soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes, best known for his diary used extensively in Ken Burns’ The Civil War. I researched the Blackstone Valley’s Civil War history and helped develop public programming to incorporate the trading cards and Civil War history into walking tours, lectures, and other events. At the Museum of Work Culture, I did archival and collections management work and compiled a permanent collection database for the museum. Finally, I spent two semesters with the Chapel Art Center working on conservation, management, and research of its permanent art collection that includes paintings, works on paper, and objects. This past Spring, I helped with the Chapel Art Center’s exhibitions, as one of three student who curated the Student Selects exhibitions that allowed Saint A’s students to respond to works from the permanent collection. I also did research at the College Archives on Fr. Raphael Pfisterer and the Studio of Christian Art for the upcoming exhibitions relating to art at Saint A’s. All of these internships have given me experiences that will be extremely valuable moving forward and allowed me to explore a wide variety of historically based careers.
Q: What is the Father Stephen E. Parent OSB Award?
The Father Stephen E. Parent OSB Award is an award given by the campus Tau Chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma to a member of the honors society who displays excellence of mind and concern for others, attributes of Father Stephen Parent. I was inducted into Delta Epsilon Sigma my junior year and am very honored to have received this award!
Q: You are now heading off to serve in the Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers (PACT). How did you get interested in teaching? What is this program and how does it work? Where will you be teaching?
For the majority college career, I wanted to be a museum curator. My goal trajectory changed at the end of my junior year because of a Winter Break Alternative trip, where I had the opportunity to work with poor and vulnerable populations, especially children, in Camden, NJ. During our week in Camden, we volunteered in a daycare for children whose families were struggling financially. While here, I came to realize that those who need the enrichment that a museum can provide—these children—cannot access the museum because of their socioeconomic circumstances. As a curator, I would only be reaching those who have the abilities and resources to be reached. As a teacher, however, I could bring the museum to children like those I encountered in Camden. I decided that teaching history—sharing my love of history and all the lessons it provides—was the best way I could continue to serve others and reach those who need it most. The PACT Program at Providence College provided me with the perfect opportunity to do just that.
The PACT Program is a two-year graduate program at Providence College built on the concept of service through teaching. PACT is an initial teacher licensure program and is especially designed for college graduates like me who didn’t major or minor in education but are interested in making the shift to teaching. During the summers, I will be completing coursework toward a Masters of Education, and during the academic year, I will be serving as a full-time teacher in a Catholic school in southern New England. At the end of the two years, I will have a Masters of Education from Providence College and two years teaching experience, which is really amazing. I will be teaching middle school social studies (grades 5–8) at St. Michael School in Fall River, MA for the next two years. I will begin my graduate coursework on June 4 and then teaching at the end of August, so I will be hitting the ground running again, but I am excited to start!
Q: One Thing after Another was surprised to learn that Woonsocket refers to itself as “La ville la plus française aux États-Unis” and was impressed to see that it was Nap Lajoie’s hometown. What do you like most about Woonsocket?
Woonsocket has a rich industrial and cultural history which can be seen everywhere in the city. Textile mills line the Blackstone River, and French-Canadian last names and vestiges of the Franco-American past abound. Woonsocket was a manufacturing center and has a powerful Franco-American identity due to immigration to work in the textile mills of the city—two things in which the city takes pride. My dad is something of an amateur Woonsocket historian, so my sisters and I have always been aware of the city’s history, heritage, and legacy. For my entire life, I have been surrounded by the city’s industrial heritage and Franco-American identity. I guess living in Woonsocket has been formative in my decision to study history and French.