Paul Bylsma '09

More about Paul

  • Lives in: Grand Rapids, MI
  • Field: Admissions Counselor
I have always had a passion for history and decided to pursue it formally.”

I graduated from Calvin in 2009 with a degree in Secondary Education, having majored in history and minored in political science. I am currently working as an admissions counselor for my dear alma mater. I recently decided to pursue a degree in higher education administration, and enrolled in GVSU's program in January 2014. I'm not sure where God's leading me yet, but the Higher Ed program combines my interest in culture with a passion for education.


Why did you choose to major in history?

I chose history after I realized that engineering was not meant for me. I have always had a passion for history and decided to pursue it formally. I chose my minor with help from my advisor, Prof. Bob Schoone-Jongen, because it complements history well and is well-matched with history in education, and because I enjoyed my POLS 101 course. I never looked back after choosing history and political science. Taking some history courses at the same time as some political science courses proved to be extremely beneficial in understanding and framing material in both classes.

How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?

My training in secondary education primed me for incredible interaction with high school students, and the history department specifically provided me with a wealth of anecdotal evidence of the personal attention, advice, and mentorship that Calvin professors offer. Of course, I can talk about the history department to students who are interested in that specific major, but the well-rounded course load that the department offers has prepared me to be conversational in all sorts of topics, while being able to offer insights from a more historical perspective. I have found that my graduate studies of history build on the experience I had as an undergraduate at Calvin, in that I am able to explore the social and cultural interests that I discovered while studying at Calvin and to read, write, research, discuss, persuade, and contribute to class conversation in meaningful ways - thanks to the modeling of such skills by my Calvin professors!

What are your plans for the future?

My life goal is to pursue a PhD in history and teach at the university level, but I am more immediately concerned with finishing my Master's in a timely fashion and to be able to utilize my degree and passion for history professionally.

What are some of your favorite memories of the history department?

All include the professors teaching the courses. I was able to finish an honors contract course and write my thesis on the cultural roots of the Calvin/Hope rivalry with Prof. Kristin Du Mez, which was a great opportunity to really immerse myself in social and cultural history. Also, taking time to chat with Prof. Schoone-Jongen about everything from how to be a better history teacher, to baseball, to his research trips to Germany, and everything in between - he once told me to listen to Garrison Keillor as an example of how to tell a good story! - really helped me to see the department as being staffed by knowledgeable, wise, intelligent people who cared about my studies and academics, but also about me as a person. Getting to know my professors personally was great!

Do you have any advice for current students?

Take advantage of how much your professors offer. They are such great people to talk to about academics and otherwise, and they really offer themselves as resources for students. Also, take the extra challenge! Get involved with research projects, do trips abroad, go to free food meetings, really invest yourself in the department! And follow what you love, but keep your mind open. My interests didn't totally develop until my junior year as a history major. Don't be afraid to step out on a limb.


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