Auburn University senior wins James Madison Fellowship for graduate studies

Published: April 29, 2015
Updated: May 07, 2015
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Auburn University College of Education senior Caitlin Halperin has been awarded a James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellowship, which assists teachers earning a master's degree with a focus on Constitutional studies. Named for the nation's fourth president, the fellowship will fund up to $24,000 toward Halperin's graduate studies in American history at Auburn.

The award goes to just one outstanding student in each state and supports the graduate study of American history by aspiring and experienced secondary school teachers of American history, American government and social studies.

Halperin, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, but has deep Auburn family connections, is a social science education major. She was nominated for the fellowship by her major professors, John Saye and Jada Kohlmeier.

"Even back in high school I knew that I loved history, but when I learned I also had a flair for public speaking I began to think that I might really want to be a teacher," Halperin said. "Once I got to Auburn and saw the way Dr. Saye and Dr. Kohlmeier approached teaching I knew this was right for me. They have a real vision of how to teach history. For them, it is not about memorizing facts. They have a vision of making democratic citizens. They want students to do more than repeat stories or dates. They want to help develop citizens who have an awareness of our history, but who are also productive members of our democratic society."

Although the Madison Fellowship gave Halperin many options for where to continue her studies, she chose to stay at Auburn. She will serve as the College of Education's student marshal at May graduation.

Halperin has been student-teaching at Auburn Junior High School. Recently, she and her students have been focused on the World Wars of the 20th century.

"My students had an easy time learning about Hitler as an obviously evil person, but our goal is to shift their perspective and get beyond that and focus instead on questions like how did the German people give one person and one party so much power? We want to shift from the hard facts of history to analyzing whether there are similar things going on in our world today. If so, what can we do as a democracy to prevent that?"

Halperin's students are working in a simulation where each represents a country in either Western or Eastern Europe, faced with a particular crisis, to see how they can apply these analytical lessons and respond in a meaningful way.

Although she has not yet begun her interviews, Halperin hopes to get a job teaching at one of the local schools in the fall.

"In addition to my studies and love of Auburn University and the College of Education, I also love the pace and feel of the local area," Halperin said. "I love my community at First Baptist Church of Opelika. I love how so many people have opened their hearts and their homes to me when I came here and didn't know anyone. It's just a very welcoming place."

Halperin is a competitive runner, and enjoys cooking and reading fiction and biographies in her free time.

"So many of my family members are Auburn graduates, so I always knew this is where I would go to school," she said. "All I can say is that Auburn is even greater than I thought it would be. I am excited about continuing my studies in the College of Education, and sharing that citizen-centered vision with a new generation of young learners."

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