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Boots on the Ground in Europe: Ohio State Students Head-out to Explore the War that Changed the World

April 23, 2013

Boots on the Ground in Europe: Ohio State Students Head-out to Explore the War that Changed the World

Ohio State’s switch to the semester system opened up endless possibilities for study-abroad opportunities that allow faculty to pair spring semester class work with study-trips during May.

Right now, bags are packed. Tickets purchased. Passports ready.

This is certainly true for students in the interdisciplinary undergraduate World War II Study Abroad Program. It is not just one class, but a new five-course, undergraduate program offered by the Department of History.

With the first four courses under their belt, they are geared-up to take on course five in London, Normandy, Paris and Berlin. They leave for for London on May 5. You will be able to follow them as they explore locations where the war took place in Europe on the ASC Tumblr site.


Last October, program students were selected from a group of undergraduates across campus who competed to participate in this exceptional new program designed for both history and non-history majors. Program students are seen above left with David Steigerwald, Jennifer Willging, AND President Gee in the Office of the President on April 22.

Eighteen were accepted into this inaugural program class. All received travel assistance from a variety of scholarships that are helping make this opportunity accessible to undergraduates. The non-history majors among them will receive a minor in history.

In January, these students embarked on this unprecedented educational journey. It began in classrooms around the Ohio State campus and will end at the Berlin Wall in late May— stopping first in England, Normandy and Paris.

While the use of World War Two battle sites as history teaching tools is not a new concept, the comprehensive program approach is unique to Ohio State.

History Professor and Program Director David Steigerwald said, “The scope and scale of this program are unmatched anywhere in the nation. During spring semester, our students took four courses that examined World War II from both historical and cultural perspectives, along with a ‘mini’ French language course.”

These courses paved the way for May session’s fifth course—the three-week tour of European battle sites, memorials, and museums is just that—a course with requirements that must be met. One of those requirements is that each student spend time exploring cultural and non war-related historical sites to gain a full appreciation of the traditions of each country they visit.

Students and history Professors Peter Mansoor and David Steigerwald, and French Professor Jennifer Willging, who lead the tour, leave May 5.

“It’s a demanding program,” history department chair Peter Hahn said. “From the first day of classes through the end of the tour, students will be as close to living the subject matter as one can get.

“This program not only will expand their understanding of the intricacies of the war and its outcomes, but make them better citizens of the world. The program was designed with Ohio State’s motto of ‘education for citizenship’ in mind."


The first 18 are a diverse group, moved to know more about a war that shifted the world and the lives it touched, including their own.

Some grew up hearing stories of relatives who fought in WWII—

Kayleigh Edgecombe, public affairs/history (grandfather); Katie Georgett, international studies/political science (both grandfathers); Dalton Kleman, English (uncles); Hannah Solomon, history (grandfather); Carly Nixon, history, English/French minor; (grandfather fought, great uncle died, in Italy); Rachel Licina, French/English, (great-uncle buried at Normandy).

Many are future historians: teachers, conservationists and interpreters of history—

Michael Scott Rueger, pre-ed history, minors in geography and political science; and Lindsey VanFossen, pre-ed history, geography minor; think it’s important to share this experience with their future students. “Being where the history actually happened will make me both a better student and a better educator,” Rueger said.

Gabrielle "Gabi" Colon, history, and Politics, Society, and Law Scholar, wants to share her love of history and educate the public as a museum curator. “Seeing how these sites are cared for will be invaluable,” she said.

For Emily Webster, geography/history—future European historian—it is the perfect opportunity to experience living, breathing history.

Others planning an academic career: Ashley Johnson, French and history, public policy minor, said, “It will expand my historical reach and prepare me to be a college history professor.”

Caitlin Bentley, history, thinks it will make her a better scholar.

Rebecca Calvin, German/English, history minor, believes she will gain a perspective on the war’s effect on modern culture that will help her attain her goals.

The program offers the promise of self-fulfillment, exploration and discovery—

Sabina Braciak, business marketing, who got interested in WW II after reading The Diary of Ann Frank when she was in elementary school, hopes to gain a better understanding of the war’s impact on today’s world.

Scott DeVol, logistics management, is interested in looking at how individual sites impacted the outcome of the war.

Madison Melinek, political science, international affairs minor; values the opportunity to see where the war took place.

It is the chance of a lifetime to make memories, friendships, and dreams come true—

Briana Conner, anthropology, looks forward to meeting new people and experiencing new things.

Gracie van Amerongen, history, French/psychology minors, is excited about living the history she’s read about.

Follow their dreams; travel with our students as they post photos and blogs as part of their course requirement on the ASC Tumblr site.

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