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Chai Reddy ’01
When you arrived at Lake Forest College, did you know you wanted to major in history?
My original plan was to go to medical school because I thought I wanted to go into Sports Medicine. I took a full year of Biology and Chemistry my freshman year and a full year of Physics my sophomore year. I was also taking Organic Chemistry but dropped it halfway through the first semester because I decided I really didn’t like science and it was not something I cared about enough to do for my life.
If you did not originally intend to major in history, what changed your mind?
I had always liked History and I had the good fortune of taking Professor Ebner’s Foundations of the American Republic. I thought I was a good writer, but for the life of me I just could not earn an A on a paper for that class. This should have frustrated me but I felt compelled to keep working as hard as possible, not necessarily to earn an A but to do well in the eyes of Professor Ebner.
What was your area of focus in history?
I was most focused on Ancient Greek culture and civilization. There was no Classical Studies minor at the time, but I participated in the Greece program, took Ancient Roman History with Professor Georges and Ancient Greek Philosophy with Professor McCracken and did two Independent Studies in Latin with Professor Ron Miller. These experiences led to my senior thesis.
Was there a particular piece of work that you remember as especially rewarding or challenging?
The Greece program was transformational. I could go on for pages about it yet still would not be able to describe all my adventures. It motivated me to write a senior thesis that combined Ancient Athenian politics and mythology. The Greece program and the thesis were the first times that I was engaging in academic pursuits because of my own interests, not because a subject was assigned to me. I definitely read more literature and research for my thesis than in my entire college career. It was not easy but it seemed attainable because I was passionate about it.
How did your history major prepare you for advanced studies?
I earned my MA from John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH) in Humanities and I am currently working on my Ed.D. in Leadership Studies from Creighton University (Omaha, NE). A lot of the coursework for my M.A. built upon my foundation of classical history. One of the big lessons I learned from my history major was that history is about the development of cognitive and critical thinking skills, which are useful in any career that is open to interpretation and allows one the creativity to develop it.
In the spring of my senior year, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had some friends who were going into education so I thought that would be a good direction for one or two years until I really knew what I wanted to do. Thanks to Woody Price (’83), I was able to land a job as the Upper School Math & Science Intern at the Haverford School in Pennsylvania. I spend one year there subbing and teaching for various classes in the Math and Science departments, which was made possible by my early science courses at Lake Forest (so they paid off in the end, which proved to me that there is some learning opportunity in all experiences).
After a year at Haverford, where I got some great classroom experience and began to learn how to teach, I still didn’t know what I really wanted to do. Part of me wanted to go into Archaeology but when I saw the language requirements it did not seem as appetizing so I continued teaching. I was interested in teaching History (since it was my major), but there were no openings at Haverford. I secured a position at the Hawken School (Gates Mills, OH) where I taught Humanities (Ancient History and Literature), European History, and Art & Culture of India. I was involved in lots of facets of school life.
I next moved to the Punahou School (Honolulu, HI) where I have been since 2006. I have taught a number of Social Studies courses, continued to coach football, helped create and administer the Student Global Leadership Institute, been involved in various faculty committees, and taken on a variety of tasks. I was name the Associate Director in 2013.
Many of our students worry that traditional liberal arts majors (particularly in the humanities) will not translate to job skills. Share your advice.
If a student wants to go into medicine or accounting, then it would serve them better to choose a major that reflects those specific job skills. However, my ultimate plan at 18 was not to go into teaching or school administration. I think even if I majored in education, it would not have fully prepared me for my various challenges and responsibilities. I have been successful thus far because of my abilities to think critically and objectively, be adaptable, and form positive relationships with others.
Some of the jobs that current undergrads will secure have not yet been invented, so how can you prepare for them? I would encourage students to spend their time learning what they enjoy, but also exploring avenues that are completely foreign to them. I took a music course, an economics course, and other courses that had little content connection to what I am doing, but all provided valuable experiences. The major may or may not get you in the door, but it is the stories around your resume that helps you secure the position.
How do the skills and knowledge you acquired in your history major inform your day-to-day work?
Working on my senior thesis, having the opportunity to intern at the Lake County Discovery Museum, and going on a study abroad to Greece and Turkey–these are the moments when I probably practiced most of the skills necessary for my position today. These experiences provided me with professional interactions that most classes do not emphasize. My senior thesis defense was the first time my ideas were challenged in a formal environment and it required a different sort of academic risk-taking.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am very thankful that I serendipitously found my career path and would not have traded my History experience for another major. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to find an academic interest, which provided me with the venue to develop skills in collaboration, investigation, negotiation, and professionalism. But most importantly, I enjoyed what I was studying.