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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

History students draw connections to the past through present-day service

By Laura Gifford '00

[image] Greta Moksnes with children
Graduate student Greta Moksnes helps children at the East Campus Head Start with a painting project.

Pacific Lutheran University history students are volunteering in AIDS hospices, serving food to the homeless and tutoring disadvantaged children—all in the name of historical inquiry.

What connection can service today have to learning about the past? Plenty, according to PLU history professor Beth Kraig.

“Contemporary sociology is the outcome of historical causes,” Kraig said. “You can’t take out a cleaver and separate today from the past.”

Kraig used to teach 20 th Century American History with more conventional methods. Increasingly, Kraig noticed that students were not taking lessons learned from lectures and textbooks and applying them to the world they live in.

“I had noticed what I felt was a tremendously diminished recognition of contemporary society,” she said. In an effort to show students how contemporary problems and issues connect to historical themes, Kraig made reading the New York Times a regular assignment—and required a minimum of 20 hours of community service.

PLU junior Angela Tomlin turned her work serving homeless people at the Tacoma Rescue Mission into a quest to determine why one-third of the men she served were Vietnam veterans.

After serving weekly meals, Tomlin struck up conversations with the vets and learned more about their wartime experiences. One combat veteran told her how he used drugs and alcohol to numb his feelings in the midst of chaos.

Tomlin, a nursing and psychology major, supplemented her conversations with scholarly research in books and journals to complete a paper on the effects of the Vietnam War on veterans.

Graduate students Grete Moksnes and Cecilie Tjernsli brought a unique perspective to their work with the Head Start program at PLU’s East Campus— Moksnes and Tjernsli are teachers in Norway, a country where early childhood education is universal.

“In Norway, everyone gets the same chance,” Moksnes said. “If you’re poor in Norway, you normally get all the help you need.”

Tjernsli said that it was a surprise to come to the United States and see firsthand the differences between social programs in the two countries.

“There are no homeless people in Norway,” she said. “That was new for me to see.”

In addition to tasks ranging from playing with kids to making them snacks, Moksnes researched the history of Head Start, while Tjernsli studied poverty in America.

The intent of requiring service, Kraig said, was to impress upon students that “actual living, breathing human beings all around them—includ-ing [the students themselves]—are enmeshed in recent history and the past.”

“There are no cookie-cutter solutions to social problems,” she said. “You may think you have the perfect answer, but somebody already tried it 30 years ago.”

The students say that Kraig’s approach was successful.

“We had a chapter in the book on the War on Poverty,” Tjernsli said. “And then I saw the direct results.”

LAURA GIFFORD CAN BE REACHED AT gifforlj@plu.edu. THE PLU VOLUNTEER CENTER OFFERS INFORMATION ON THE VARIETY OF CLASSES THAT HAVE VOLUNTEER/COMMUNITY SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES. IT CAN BE REACHED AT volunteer@plu.edu OR (253) 535-8318



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