Auburn University College of Education graduate Matthew Summerlin 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 Summerlin’s graduate studies in American History. Although the fellowship would allow Summerlin to attend the school of his choice, he has chosen to continue his studies at Auburn.
“Coming to Auburn in many ways saved my life, and I wouldn’t think of studying anywhere else, especially since I am already in my dream job, teaching American History at Auburn High School,” Summerlin said. “I actually grew up in Cincinnati and went to Sycamore High, which was one of the top public schools in the state. Despite this, I ended up battling addiction throughout my early twenties, and only became successful at school after entering recovery in 2014.”
Although it is not as well-known as it should be, the Auburn-Opelika area has a powerful reputation as a supportive recovery community, and that includes Auburn University. Summerlin moved here for that reason, spent two years at Southern Union, and transferred into the College of Education’s Social Studies Education program. He graduated summa cum laude in August 2019.
“I spent one semester working with Dr. John Saye, but my major professor and advisor was Dr. Jada Kohlmeier,” he said. “I am a huge fan of her and her work. She has added so much to our social studies and history community, and she is a great role model. I am very proud to be a part of this program and to carry on its work in the local schools.”
As Summerlin was completing his internship, he was hired on at Auburn High.
“As I say, I am already in my dream job. It just makes it all the better to see Auburn colleagues like Dr. Blake Busbin, Erica Vatella, Caitlin Halperin, and Anne Roge. Besides being graduates of the great Auburn program we have something else in common: we are all winners of the Madison Fellowship!”
Because he is already a professional educator, Summerlin is a senior fellow. In his work, he focuses heavily on teaching the Constitution. His students often kid him about carrying around a pocket copy of the revered document.
“I always have a copy nearby,” he admitted. “It is such a lean, clean document. To me, it is one of the great documents ever written by man.”
Summerlin recently completed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s book, A Republic, If You Can Keep It, the title of which recalls the famous phrase of Benjamin Franklin from 1787. Summerlin frequently explores with his students whether we should read the Constitution as originalists, or as a living document.
“As our semester winds down here at Auburn High, of course we are teaching our classes remotely,” Summerlin explained. “Our American History class covers Columbus to Reconstruction, and our big question this semester focuses on when, if ever, our federal government is justified in imposing its will on American citizens. The question becomes more tangible every day in this time of Covid-19. It is a terrible situation, but it translates well with our investigation of that question. Governors of different states are imposing restrictive measures and stay-at-home orders, along with measures being advocated by the White House. The class is going really well, and we are getting more and more participation in our online forums.”
Summerlin said Auburn has given him the tools to help others, much in the same way it helped him.
“I’ll be starting my Master’s this summer and am really looking forward to the challenge. Auburn and the College of Education have given me so much. I want to give back to the university and the community that have done so much for me. I cannot say enough about Auburn. I am War Eagle all the way, now and forever.”