The day after my high school graduation, I headed off to Gettysburg College to attend the Civil War Institute Summer Conference. Even I questioned why I would want to go to a conference centered around learning within a day of graduating high school, but attending the conference turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve always had a passion for history, but the extent of my knowledge from high school about the Civil War was mostly a list of battles and statistics. After being accepted at Gettysburg College as a member of the Class of 2018 and knowing that I would attend school on the nation’s most famous Civil War battlefield, I became motivated to learn more.
I can’t think of a better environment to facilitate this kind of learning than that provided at the Conference. As a student scholarship recipient, I was surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever encountered. From college professors to high school teachers to National Park rangers to history enthusiasts, I had a chance to interact with so many amazing people who taught me so much. The variety of activities planned for scholarship students kept me busy throughout the week. Whether we were listening to a lecture or having a discussion with an author or taking a trip to the Fredericksburg battlefield, it was an unbelievable experience to be surrounded by people who love history as much as I do.
The Conference not only gave me a better understanding of the history of the Civil War, but also helped me adjust to college life. It was a great experience to live in a dorm for the week and meet all of my fellow scholarship students. By the time I came back for first-year orientation in August, the campus felt familiar. I formed strong bonds with some of the other scholarship students and remain in contact with them to this day. Looking back on it, I think my experience at the Conference was also helpful in teaching me to be responsible and follow the schedule given to us while also kicking back and enjoying my free time.
One of the greatest things that came out my time at the Conference was the opportunity to get to know some of the staff and faculty at the Civil War Institute. After meeting Professor Ian Isherwood, I decided to enroll in his class on soldier experiences of war during my first semester at Gettysburg. Not only was it nice to know a friendly face on the first day of class, but Dr. Isherwood has been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had and I’m already enrolled in another one of his classes. With most of the faculty and staff of the Civil War Institute playing an active role in the Conference, I also formed bonds with Dr. Peter Carmichael, Dr. Jill Ogline Titus and many Gettysburg College upperclassmen who are also studying history.
My experience with faculty and students over the summer was so great that I’ve persistently tried to maintain connections with the Civil War Institute during my time at the college. Having the Civil War Institute at the college distinguishes Gettysburg from other schools due to the staff’s efforts to keep history alive and relevant. The college’s deep roots in American history are highlighted by Institute programs throughout the year, from lectures to discussion groups. When the call went out for applications for the CWI’s Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program, which places Gettysburg College students in paid summer positions with the National Park Service and other institutions, I was excited to apply. This coming summer, I’ll be interning at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, formulating and delivering my own tours of other famous Civil War battlefields. As a history enthusiast, I could not imagine any other college catering to my passion for the Civil War era so much. The Conference was not only the best thing I did all summer, but it got me connected with the Civil War Institute and opened up opportunities that have made my first year of college unique in so many ways.
I strongly encourage high school students to take the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend the Summer Conference – the people you will meet will amaze you and the knowledge you gain will astonish you.