Happily Studying History at NJIT: Meet John Hoffman

John Hoffman is a history major at NJIT who intends to apply to law school.

When John Hoffman (2011) tells his fellow students that he majors in history, they usually respond by asking, “Does NJIT really offer history as a major?” Either that, Hoffman says, or they laugh.  Most NJIT students major in technical fields and pride themselves on their analytical skills. 

But Hoffman will have the last laugh. He majors in history and minors in legal studies because, along with loving both fields, he plans to attend law school. And what better background for a lawyer, he believes, than to study the history of cultures and their legal systems?

Studying history at NJIT, moreover, gives Hoffman an edge.  For at NJIT, he takes the standard history classes -- History of Western Civilization and the History of American Foreign Policy -- offered at liberal art colleges.  But NJIT also offers specialized history classes such as the history of science and technology and the history of medicine – classes more closely allied to a technical university.  And since he’s considering studying environmental law, a field that fuses science and the humanities, his major is perfect for him.

In this interview, Hoffman, a junior from Pine Plains, N.Y., talks about how he came to study history and legal studies at NJIT.   

Why or how did you choose NJIT? Your hometown is about three hours away from campus.
My father works as an engineer at IBM and one of his colleagues is a graduate of NJIT. He suggested the college to us and we came on a tour.  I liked NJIT and our tour guide told me to apply to the Honors College here, which he said offers good scholarships. So I applied and was offered a generous scholarship by the Honors College. That’s why I came. 

And how did you come to study history at NJIT?
I came here first as a biomedical engineering major. But I soon realized I didn’t like that major. I had always liked history and politics, so once I decided to drop engineering, I looked at the course catalogue and switched my major to history -- a great major for a pre-law student.

What areas of history are you most interested in?
I like 19th and 20th century American history, the period during which America became an industrial and a global nation.  In studying America in that period, you are really studying world history because America branched out all over the world. And because of my minor, I’ve taken history classes that touch upon law, such as American Constitutional Law, the Legal Environment of Business and Law and Society in History.

Have you had good history professors?
Yes. Allison Perlman teaches historical problems through film, and she’s great.  Her class focused on what we can learn about society from the films of certain periods, and how films both reflect and change American culture. 

Professor Stephen Pemberton taught the history of medicine, and taught us how history intersects with medical advancements.  During both world wars, for instance, America made advancements storing blood plasma, because it was urgent.  He also taught me how to write well, a skill I’ll need as a lawyer. 

How does it help to be in the Honors College?
The Honors Scholarship is so helpful.  It covers all my expenses except my housing, which I can pay by working summers. So the scholarship allows me to concentrate on my studies, which is a huge help. 

You mentioned that studying history at NJIT gives you an edge.  How so?  
History is a federated department between NJIT and Rutgers-Newark.  So I get to take more technical-oriented history classes at NJIT, and liberal arts classes at Rutgers Newark.  That diversifies my learning in a way that wouldn’t be possible had I attended a strictly liberal arts college.

I think that will help me when it comes time to apply to law schools.

Are you happy at NJIT and excited about your future?
I’m happy here both academically and socially. I belong to and live at my fraternity, Theta Chi, and also belong to the service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. That keeps me very busy and happy.  And I’m really looking forward to attending law and school and one day working as a lawyer.

So overall I’m excited about my future.

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)