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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary's welcomes new history professor

This school year, Saint Mary’s welcomed several new professors to campus. One of these new educators is Garret McDonald, a history professor teaching courses in both world history and world civilization.

McDonald was a graduate student and teaching fellow at Fordham University before coming to Saint Mary's. 

“I finished my PhD and then taught for several years in New York City. I got offered the visiting assistant professorship here at Saint Mary’s and I couldn’t say no,” McDonald said.

Prior to living in New York City, McDonald attended two other universities. He attended Angelo State University in Texas before pursuing his master's degree at Texas Tech.

The story is I’ve spent most of my life in school,” McDonald said.

He said coming to an all-women's school presents a new challenge, albeit an exciting one.

“When I taught at Fordham and when I was a teaching assistant at Texas Tech, those are both fairly large co-ed universities,” he said. “Getting used to teaching at an all-girls school is a different dynamic, but it’s a welcoming one.”

History is something McDonald has always enjoyed, and he credits his late grandfather for inspiring him to teach the subject at a professional level. His grandfather collected Civil War memorabilia. McDonald at one point owned a cavalry saber and would spend time at an old American West and West Texas fort.

“He would be there for a Christmas event every year where he would reenact what life was like on the frontier in America. As I got older I was like ‘Well, I want to know about history,’ but he wouldn’t talk about it at all,” he said.

McDonald said studying history was a way to connect with his grandfather.

“He wouldn’t talk about his experiences in Vietnam or his experiences in Iran. I knew the only way to get to know my grandfather was to study history, and I also just from the very beginning had a passion for teaching people,” McDonald said.

Similar to many college students, McDonald had a difficult time deciding what to major in, as he originally wanted to take a completely different path.

“By the time I was in college, I actually started as a mechanical engineering major,” he said. 

He quickly changed course and hasn't regretted it since, he said.

“That was one of the worst decisions of my life. I moved to history and I’ve never looked back. I think history is a wonderful way to get to know people’s past, present and future,” he explained.

McDonald has high hopes for his future at Saint Mary’s.

“I hope to get enough students, or at least for this semester get enough students interested in actually taking my classes next semester,” he said. “I’d really like this to turn into a long-term position. It’s a wonderful community. It’s a wonderful department with a lot of freedom.” 

McDonald also has a variety of specializations within the field of history.

“My primary [focus] is modern Russian and Eurasian history and modern Europe,” he said.

He is also a historian of science, technology and medicine and legal history. 

McDonald’s favorite class to teach is World History II, a class focusing on history dating from 1500 to more current historical events.

“It is just a lot of fun because students may have a better idea of who Elvis Presley was than they do have of Hammurabi,” McDonald said. 

A look at global history benefits students in a variety of ways, he said.

“They’re constantly learning something new because it’s world history and not just American or European history. At the same time they can relate to it because by the time we get to the 20th century, it’s so recent,” he said.

At the root of every class, McDonald tries to make sure he and his students have a good time.

“I try to have fun in all of my classes,” he said. “Education should be fun. If not, why are any of us here? That’s the way I think of it.”