Adam Sonstroem '02 taught high school history and is now teaching at the college level.
What has been your vocational path since graduation? How did you end up where you are and what was the process of getting there? Is this what you expected to be doing?
After graduation, I continued at Wheaton to complete the MAT program with the Education Department. From there, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona to teach high school history at Scottsdale Christian Academy. I taught at SCA for 8 years, doing a variety of history related subjects including US History, Government, Economics, AP US History, Dual Enrollment Western Civilization and added a History and Film (and a Worldview and Film) elective as well. I then began teaching at Arizona Christian University in both the history and communication departments teaching US History, World History, Geography and Film Classes. I am also teaching online for Rio Salado Community College doing Western Civ classes.
I expected to be teaching/coaching, but did not expect to have the opportunity to teach at the college level let alone find full time employment teaching at a university. It has been a ride I did not anticipate and God has opened and closed doors I never expected Him to. I love teaching and sharing with my students the foundation the Wheaton History Department provided for me.
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
My history major has helped me see the world differently and look for patterns of cause and effect. I enjoy the story of history, but even more, I enjoy challenging my students to see how the puzzle pieces fit together. I constantly remind my students that “nothing happens in a vacuum” and to look for cause and effect. Thanks to Dr. Kay, I also challenge my students to go beyond the surface level of history and begin to ask the critical “so what?” question that forces an analytical approach to history.
From both a content and non-content perspective, I am deeply indebted to Dr. Rapp and Dr. Maas (as well as Dr. Long and Dr. Noll) for investing in me. I will never forget, as I began to look at teaching as my career, that they came alongside me and encouraged me in that pursuit. I had the opportunity to teach a few classes over breaks at the high school I attended (Delaware County Christian) in Philadelphia. I went to both professors and asked if they had any material I could use to enhance my lectures on Reconstruction in AP US History and the French Revolution in AP Euro. Dr. Maas copied his entire folder on Reconstruction for me to use as a resource and Dr. Rapp gave me three folders of slides/overheads/notes/information (his originals!) he used for his infamous lectures on the French Rev. They treated me as an eventual colleague teaching history and were extremely generous sharing the material they had spent years perfecting.
This has influenced my perspective on teaching so that if I can share my experience and material with colleagues, I am more than willing to do so. I do not see my material and information as my own to be selfish with, but to share and spread a love of learning to those around me. Their influence has helped me be a better teacher and colleague.
In light of your own experiences, what advice would you give to undergraduates? Do you have any advice specifically on making the most of a degree in history?
As far as advice goes, get to know your professors. Know they are people with interests and not just a means-to-an-end with a degree in history. Enjoy the experience with top scholars in the field.
History is not just about “the what” but more importantly about “the why.” As we look at history, it is easy to see it as just a random collection of stories and facts. Instead of seeing your Wheaton history degree as an accumulation of knowledge and trivia, view it as a way to connect the dots and put pieces together while understanding how people operate in a historical as well as present-day context.
Work towards collaboration with both your peers and your professors. Some of the best discussion and dialogue on history comes in an environment where people seek to learn, not just out-do each other to see who has the loudest voice and opinions.