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Steven A. Reich

Professor of history Steven A. Reich and Honors student Michelle Amaya

His confidence in my ability helped me succeed in ways I had not imagined

By Michelle Amaya ('14)

During my academic career, I have kept in contact with many professors. JMU is academically challenging, and my professors have helped me in my struggles. I'd say academic rigor has been the reason I've been able to develop relationships with so many professors. Yet even after classes have finished, I still go and talk to them.

Dr. Steven Reich in the history department played a big role in my development as a student. In GHIST 150H Critical Issues in Recent Global History, an honors history class with Dr. Reich, we discussed a wide range of topics including the Iraq War and illegal immigration. The class really expanded the way that I think, challenging me to think in ways I had not previously considered.

"His class really expanded the way that I think, challenging me to think in ways I had not previously considered."

Sometime after the course finished, Dr. Reich emailed all the class members about the Hillcrest Scholarships, which are awarded to outstanding sophomore honors students. He told us that he felt we were a class of good students, and he had enjoyed teaching us. He asked that we read the attached material on the scholarship carefully. I felt like he was speaking right to me when he "strongly recommended" that we consider applying for the scholarship.

Michelle Amaya world views
Heeding Professor Reich's advise led Michelle Amaya to earn a scholarship abroad experience in Bolivia.

Wow! I hadn't heard of the Hillcrest Scholarship, but it seemed clear to me that if Dr. Reich saw potential when I was a student in his class, then maybe I had a chance.

Students had to choose a faculty member to work with in the application process; a process that would require a significant amount of work for the professor. I thought it only appropriate that I approach Dr. Reich and request his support.

And so I wrote: "Dr. Reich, I want to thank you for letting us know about the scholarship. I'm strongly considering applying, and I wanted to know if you would be my mentor through the process."

I don't think he had an option; but, in the end, I believe he liked helping me!

I found an organization to work with and fleshed out my proposal with a purpose, mission, timeline, methods, budget and all the details of my proposed project. Dr. Reich's support was particularly valuable as I prepared my personal statement and resume.

Proposals had to be submitted in December of the student's sophomore year. I remember staying in the dorm while everybody was leaving on break so I could turn in my proposal the Saturday morning before I left.

I completed the application thinking, "Well, somebody believes I can qualify for the scholarship. We'll see what happens."

As it turned out, I won the Hillcrest Scholarship Service/Leadership Award.

I remember that when I was considering whether to apply for the scholarship Dr. Reich had told me, "It might really be of good use to you." He was so right.

Through the Hillcrest Scholarship, I traveled to Bolivia on a global health internship to mentor orphaned children and shadow pediatric physicians. The trip confirmed my call to serve in the medical field and allowed me to see the reward of the hard work I invested in my academic career.

As I helped the children, I saw firsthand the value of someone who can motivate you to achieve your potential by helping you discover your hidden talents. While tutoring, I found myself saying to the children, "Wow, did you do that by yourself? That's beautiful. You are so smart." Watching their confidence grow as I encouraged them reminded me of the many professors at JMU, such as Dr. Reich, who have believed in me, affirmed me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

About the professor
Professor of History Steven A. Reich, a full-time JMU faculty member since 1999, teaches GHIST 225 United States History and GHIST 150 Critical Issues in the Recent Global Past for the university's General Education program. He also offers courses in labor, African American, and southern history as well as in historical research methods. From 2007 to 2012, he served as the Department of History's Graduate Program Director. He is the author of A Working People: A History of African American Workers since Emancipation (2013) and the editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration (2006). His articles on southern labor history, the Great Migration, and black political activism in the Jim Crow South have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Journal of the Historical Society and other journals. He says, "Michelle was one of the most active participants in a class of very eager, intelligent and engaged honors students. Her ability to engage the diverse reading materials and to not only contribute to but shape class discussion conveyed a global awareness rare and unusual in a class of college freshmen. She brought to class a welcome sensitivity to the lived experience of those unlike herself, clearly honed from a childhood that taught her the value of caring for and understanding other people. As a dedicated student who never shies from a challenge, Michelle expressed a genuine willingness to learn from what I wanted to teach her about writing. She demonstrated considerable growth as a writer and thinker over the course of the semester. Her desire to learn from constructive criticism is a hallmark of her maturity and a characteristic that will serve her very well in the future, enabling her to serve and lead in the years to come."

About the author
In addition to being a Hillcrest Scholar, honors student Michelle Amaya ('14) is a Centennial Scholar and a Gates Millennial Scholar.

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Published: Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

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