Caitlin Halperin Wins James Madison Fellowship

April 14, 2015

Caitlin Halperin
Caitlin Halperin

College of Education senior Caitlin Halperin has been awarded the James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellowship to study American History. Named for James Madison, the nation’s fourth president, the Fellowship will fund up to $24,000 towards Halperin’s Master’s degree. She will also serve as the College’s Student Marshal at her May graduation.

Halperin, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio but has Auburn family connections that are deep and wide, is a Social Science Education major. She was nominated for the Fellowship by her major professors in the department, Drs. 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.”

With her fellowship money, Halperin had the opportunity to continue her studies pretty much anywhere she chose. She plans to stay at Auburn.

“I just have that great relationship with Dr. Saye and Dr. Kohlmeier,” she said. “I know their passion for social science education and I want to share their vision when I get out there in my own classroom.”

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 getting into 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?”

To help her students do this, Halperin’s students are working in a simulation where each student 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 off hours.

“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.”

Story and photo by George Littleton