A Future Historian: Meet Silvia Mendes

Silvia Mendes, a history major at NJIT, intends to get her doctorate and work as a history professor.

Silvia Mendes (2010), a senior at NJIT, wants to get a doctorate in history. One day, she’d like to work as a history professor.  She’d also like to do historical research. History is not the first major one associates with NJIT, whose students tend to specialize in technical and scientific majors. But Mendes is happy with her studies and excited about her future. 

And for her to have a bright future is why her parents immigrated to America. They left Portugal when Sylvia was two years old so that she and her younger brother could attend American schools and have better lives.  The family lived at first in the Ironbound section of Newark, then bought a house in Union, N.J.

A friend of the family, a graduate of NJIT, told Silvia about NJIT.  Eager to learn, she first took classes at NJIT when she was in high school.  During the summers of her freshman and sophomore years in high school, she took chemistry and physics at NJIT -- the classes are sponsored by the Center for Pre-College Programs.

She liked the sciences, but not math, and she always loved history – excelling in her AP history classes.  So when it came to apply to colleges, she knew where she wanted to go – NJIT – and what she wanted to study: history.

In this interview, Silvia talks about what it’s like to be a history major at NJIT, which she believes is giving her an edge over humanity majors at liberal arts colleges.

What is it about history that caught your attention?
Everything about history catches my attention. I believe that history allows people to understand everything that is currently happening and that will happen. History is not boring stories, which many people believe; it’s exciting and compelling. I personally love history because I am able to link the histories of different countries and understand how everything is connected: many people are not able to do that anymore. History is not like any other degree: a student who decides to study history must have passion for the subject. Without passion, a student will not be able to learn history, since it requires careful study. 

You’re the first generation in your family to attend college.  Did your parents encourage you to study hard to improve your life? 
Yes! I cannot express that enough. Ever since I can remember my parents always told me I NEEDED to go to college. In all the years that I have been in school, they have supported me in everything that I have done. As I prepare to graduate from NJIT, they couldn't be happier! Right now they say they’ll support me when I attend graduate school. My parents always knew that education, especially college education, was something I would always have.

You say your major offers a good variety of history classes. Can you talk about two or three classes you’ve taken that you loved?
I have taken U.S. as a World Power. I really liked this class because it outlined all the different events in history that led to the United States becoming a world power. This class was interesting because there was a lot of analyzing of the events. Also, I believe that the students were able to relate well to the class because a lot of the events occurred in the 20th century. Another class that I have taken is Technology in American History. This class focuses on the different technologies that were needed for the United States to grow as a nation. It also focuses on the technologies that were invented in Europe and how Americans modified it to fit their needs.

You said the professors are passionate about their teaching. Can you talk a bit about them?    
I truly believe that each professor I had was passionate about his or her subject matter. Their passion is apparent when they spend extra time teaching if the students don’t at first understand the subject.  They give students as much extra help as they can. Also, the professors ensure that the students are ready to take exams. And the professors design the exams so that students can answer the questions in a number of ways.  Unlike math, there isn’t just one right answer in the humanities and the professors allow the students to be creative.  

You also love the sciences, which you studied at NJIT when you were in high school.  It’s unusual for someone majoring in the humanities to also love sciences.  Do you think you’ll ever use your science background?
In the immediate future, I do not believe that I will use my science background. But I am happy that I have taken science classes. Nothing in the future is set in stone and my science background can come in handy if a job requires it. And intellectually, there is nothing better then understanding more than one subject.

You said you are getting a well-rounded education at NJIT. What did you mean by that?
I am getting a well-rounded education because as a history major, like any other major here, I must take an array of classes.  Just because I am a history major doesn’t mean I only take history classes. I have taken math, science, business, and computer science classes. Some of those classes are difficult for me -- math is not my strongest subject, but the variety allows me to have a better education than history majors at liberal arts colleges. And that will give me an edge when I apply to graduate school, and an edge when I one day work as a professor/researcher.  

 (By Robert Florida, University Web Services)