First graduates praise integrated American studies program

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Karen Bowman and Julia Chain, the first two students to enroll in Penn State Harrisburg’s new integrated undergraduate/graduate degree program (IUG) in American studies, graduated in December 2016 with honors from the Schreyer Honors College.

The IUG program, introduced by the School of Humanities in 2011, offers students the opportunity to complete an accelerated master’s degree in addition to a bachelor’s degree in American studies in five years.

Chain, who completed the program in four and a half years after transferring Advanced Placement credits to Penn State from high school, was committed to earning a graduate degree from the start of her education. The IUG program was one of the deciding factors in her decision to attend Penn State Harrisburg, she said, and ended up being a defining factor of her education.

Over the course of her studies, Chain developed an interest in historic preservation. Her research explored Pennsylvania’s historic farms and farmlands, and as part of her thesis project, Chain created a hands-on guide for farmers on how to protect and preserve their land and establishments concurrently.

“I can't express the extent to which the American studies IUG program enriched my education,” she said, “by providing engaging classes, intriguing questions and new ideas. The professors in this program are unparalleled in their commitment to students and passion for their subjects.”

After graduating, Chain’s continued interest and research in preservation secured her a career in her field as program director at Preservation Pennsylvania, a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping protect and preserve historical lands and establishments.

For Bowman, the IUG program was an attractive way to earn two degrees while also cutting time and costs. Her own research focused on the influence of women’s journals on the creation, popularization and continuation of the American Halloween. She used resources made available to her through the Alice Marshall collection at Penn State Harrisburg while also conducting research at museums and universities in Pennsylvania and New York.

For prospective American studies IUG graduates, the successes of Chain and Bowman serve as proof of the opportunities created through such a program. Kaitlyn Miller, who graduated in May 2017 from the IUG program, similarly landed a job in her field at the Seminary Ridge Museum of Gettysburg following an internship she completed there.

In Miller’s research for her thesis titled "Breaking the Mold: Rethinking the Southern Woman in the Civil War," she argued that not all upper-class Southern women supported the Civil War and the Southern cause. Over the summer of 2016, she used diaries and letters in archives of the Virginia Historical Society, at Duke University, and at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

“The great thing with the American Studies IUG program,” she said, “is the variety of different classes that both interest you and will help you work towards your career goals.”

Other May 2017 graduates from the American studies IUG included Curtis Royer, whose thesis focused on Thaddeus Stevens, the congressman from Lancaster, who was instrumental in shaping Reconstruction after the Civil War; and Rosemary Yee, who performed ethnographic research as a part of her thesis on the Chinese buffet phenomenon.

Penn State Harrisburg also offers IUG programs in applied psychological research, civil and environmental engineering, computer science, and electrical engineering.