Since its introduction last November, Eastern’s online master’s degree program in history has reignited student interest in this vital area of the humanities. Currently, there are 131 graduate students from across the nation enrolled in the program. “It’s been a tremendous success,” says Larry Cebula, professor of history and a member of the graduate committee.
The EWU history department pivoted to only offering a MA in history online because enrollment numbers were dwindling for the in-person program. The success of the on-line only program has shown those dwindling numbers aren’t due to a lack of interest in the degree, Cebula says.
“An MA in history has always been a really valuable degree. There’s a lot of people in Spokane, Washington state, and across the country who got their MA in history on campus from Eastern and leveraged that,” says Cebula. “There are degree recipients leading offices at the state department, archivists around the Northwest — including at the MAC — and a number of people in the state archives, people doing historic preservation, and some people went on to get their PhDs. But a campus-only MA limited our reach.”
Theresa Mitchell, a Massachusetts native with a dual career in environmental non-profit management and as a writer specializing in historical nonfiction, is among the program’s first class of students.
“Throughout my professional life, what was missing was formal training as a historian,” Mitchell says. “I want to approach future work with proper credentials, instead of ‘merely’ writing about the past, as would a journalist.”
Mitchell says she searched for a year before discovering EWU’s online master’s degree program. She describes it as a “great fit,” and praises the diversity of points-of-view she encounters. “The caliber of my fellow students inspires me to do my best,” she says. There are “many teachers, some military, some retired, younger folks—all of whom compose insightful posts on discussion boards where I continue to learn from them about facets of the past interpreted in new ways.”
The master of arts in history has always been a strong program. But it has also been a small one. Now it doesn’t have to be. According to Cebula, there is a strong demand for online master’s programs in history because there are so few others offered. The program is structured as a fixed course sequence of nine classes, which are balanced between world and American history.
One unique feature of the EWU online offering is its compressed classes. Typically graduate classes in history run over a 10-week period, but those for Eastern’s degree are only six weeks long. Shorter terms, however, doesn’t mean less demanding requirements, Cebula says. “This is not less, this is more,” he says. “These students work really hard.”
For students like Mitchell, the hard work is part of the attraction. “The curriculum perfectly suits my learning objectives. The coursework is challenging and I’m grateful for intelligent, kind, and compassionate professors invested in their students’ success.”
The final project for the program is not the typical thesis. Instead, students will assemble a portfolio from their coursework, one that “they will be able to leverage” in their careers, says Cebula. “They leave the program ready to go.”