BA in History

Nikaela Busekrus, 2020

Nikaela Busekrus

How did you decide on the history major?

It all started with my mom. She homeschooled my three sisters and me until I was in the fourth grade. Almost every night she would read to us, teaching us about everything from Queen Hatshepsut and Genghis Khan and the Silk Road to drummer boys in the American Revolution, Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, immigrants to California during the Gold Rush, and countless other topics. One of the most fascinating stories was about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. She would read to us from their journals and accounts of Sacagawea’s life, teaching us about how both the Corps and the Native Americans experienced the venture differently. When I was in elementary school, we took a family trip to St. Louis, Missouri – Gateway to the West – where the Corps had started their journey nearly two centuries before. Two years later, we traveled to Fort Clatsop outside of Astoria, Oregon, on the 200th anniversary of the Corps reaching the Pacific Ocean. That experience brought history to life for me.

As I continued in school, I had several other inspiring history teachers, particularly my middle school teacher, Mrs. Stewart, who, like the books my mom read, made history a story about real people and real events with real impacts on the world around me. I wanted to know more about why the world was the way it is today: why we have the laws we do, why people faced the injustices they did, why wars started, and how their ending changed the world. When it came time to apply to colleges and pick a major, I knew history was the major that would answer the questions that I have about why the world is the way it is.

Are you minoring or double majoring in anything else?  If so, how do the two work together – or separately?

I’m minoring in Spanish. There’s some overlap in the contents of my history and Spanish classes. A lot of the Spanish classes I’m taking incorporate a historical aspect, one that often challenges me to think about events I’ve covered in history courses from multiple perspectives. I am by no means an expert in all aspects of Spanish language and culture, but knowing the language has also given me a deeper cultural and social perspective of history. Studying Spanish has also given me a desire to learn more about Latin American history as well as the history of Latinos and Chicanos in the United States. Last semester I had the opportunity to do a research project on the history of bilingual education in the U.S. and this semester in my HIST 300 class I am researching different aspects of the Chicano movement in the 1960s.

What have you learned in a history class that really surprised you/changed your perspective?

Two of the courses I have found most interesting in the History department so far have been a course on South African history I took last semester and one on Modern Russia and the Soviet Union I am taking this semester. Although their subject matter is very different as one might expect, learning about the oppression, violence, and violation of rights in both locations has challenged the way that I think about my life and have made me more aware of the incredible freedoms and privilege I experience. Reflecting on the realities of life for people in other parts of the world and periods of history, I have begun to understand more clearly that I have the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to actively work for justice with the hope that all people can have and be sure of the rights and opportunities that I have been afforded.

Tell us about your dream occupation…

I would love to be a high school history teacher. Often when I tell people I am majoring in history I get a response like, “Why?” Most people think that history is solely memorizing obscure dates and insignificant facts; but it is so much more that that! History is knowing the past so you understand the present and can change the future. Kids need to know that! They need to be empowered by hearing stories about people who were brave enough to advocate for change where they saw injustice, or discovered something new that changed the way we see the world. But if history class is just memorizing names and dates and taking tests and taking naps, then students will quickly lose interest and the importance of studying the past. As a teacher, I want to tell my students stories, to teach them what they are interested in learning, to have discussions that challenge their perspective. I want to make kids excited about history. They don’t all have to love it or want to be history majors, although that would be awesome! I just want them to have a greater sense of purpose and identity by knowing their stories.

Have you had any internships?  Or interesting jobs or volunteer experiences?  Tell us about it/them.

Yes! This summer I had an awesome internship with the historical society in my hometown. When I first reached out to the Kailua Historical Society (KHS), I was anticipating an internship offer that entailed sitting at a desk most of the day or rummaging through files. While that would not have been terrible, I definitely enjoy work that’s more hands on and people-oriented. When I eventually got a call back from KHS, they offered me a position coordinating and facilitating community clean-ups of a historic/archeological site near a wetlands area in my hometown. I immediately said yes, and started working when I arrived home for the summer. On one of my first days home I got to walk around the site with the head of the Society, Dr. Brennan, who pointed out the different “layers of history” that were visible at the site: remains from ancient Hawaiian heiau (temples), foundations of homes that belonged to Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century, and most recently the presence of homeless individuals who had used the area as a camp ground. Throughout the summer I also was privileged to visit other historic sites in my town that I had never known about before, including “the Queen’s Retreat” where Queen Lili’uokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom, had stayed when she came to the Windward side of O’ahu, and a lo’i (taro patch) that a family had recently restored to teach the community about the traditional method of cultivating kalo (taro).

Throughout the summer Dr. Brennan, my boss, introduced me to many knowledgeable members of the community who were involved in other historic preservation and education efforts. I was blessed to work with many of these individuals, as well as other members of the KHS, to reach community members via social media, newspaper, church communities and other local service organizations to gather volunteers and donations for tools and refreshments. At the end of July we hosted two cleanups with about 75 unique volunteers and cleared away approximately 8 tons of trash and debris that had been covering the site. A week after the last cleanup, the Kailua Historical Society had their annual meeting to invest their board members and I was asked to share about the work we had done during the summer. Several people whose family members had lived at the houses on the site were able to come as well and talk story about the lives of the rice plantation workers who had lived there. The internship was definitely not what I had envisioned, but I learned a great deal about the history my town, as well as the importance of involving the community in efforts to protect and teach about local history. Knowing your history gives you a sense of identity, purpose, and ownership of community. This experience also opened my eyes to see that there are so many skills that a history degree teaches, and so many opportunities beyond the usual spheres of teaching or working in a museum. I am excited to see what the future brings for this site and for the Kailua Historical Society.

Any accomplishments you’re proud of?  Opportunities you’ve taken advantage of?  Brag a little!

This is not specifically academic, but last semester I was able to leave the U.S. for the first time and go to Spain and Portugal! My cousin, who also goes to Mason and studies history and Spanish, was studying abroad in Madrid for the semester, and I decided to take advantage of the fact that she was there, and that I had money saved up to travel, and I flew by myself to Madrid. I stayed with her host family, then she and I visited Sevilla and the Algarve in Southern Portugal. I was visiting during Semana Santa (Holy Week in the Roman Catholic Church), which was an incredible opportunity to experience the parades, celebrations, and masses in Spanish and to talk with locals and visitors alike in Spanish. I also felt quite brave coordinating my trip and traveling abroad alone.

Another neat opportunity I’ve had is to be a student ambassador for CHSS. I’ve volunteered at admissions events, gone to leadership seminars and met some other wonderful CHSS students!

I’ve also been able to travel a lot around Virginia and see some of the incredible historical sites that surround us, including Gunston Hall (George Mason’s historic home), the historic Fairfax courthouse, Harper’s Ferry, Williamsburg, and others. Being in historic places makes me realize, “Whoa! People lived here! This actually happened!”

Tell us something that people would be surprised to know about you?

I love to cook! And to eat new foods. Before starting college I (somewhat) seriously considered the idea of going to culinary school, and it’s still something I hope to do someday. I especially love making curries and baking, and enjoy making dishes for my family and my neighbors at home. Food is also a way to learn about other cultures and other people’s lives, because it carries a history in itself and brings people together. In a world where people disagree on lots of issues, everyone (I hope!) can agree on the importance and the joy of tasty food!