Kelli Jackson Russell '09 is currently pursuing her M.S. in sociology.
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 graduating from Wheaton College in 2009, I went on to win the title of Miss Rodeo Mississippi 2009 and later Miss Rodeo America 2010. As Miss Rodeo America, I traveled nearly 100,000 miles as the official spokesperson for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. After completing my reign as Miss Rodeo America, I served as a field representative for United States Congressman Alan Nunnelee. I worked as his liaison within Mississippi’s First Congressional District, working with economic development groups, businesses, and government officials for nearly four years. Currently, I am a first year graduate student in sociology at Mississippi State University where I am studying health equity and development.
I pursued the title of Miss Rodeo America because of my love of the sport of rodeo and background in agriculture. It was my initial planned path post-graduation, and I was very fortunate to win the title. Additionally, I had planned (while a Wheaton student) to pursue graduate studies; however, I knew that I wanted to work a few years in politics prior to re-enrolling in school. During my time as a Congressional staffer I realized my desire to study not only historical problems, but current social issues as well. This realization lead me to pursue graduate studies in sociology rather than history. History is still my first love; I am passionate about the study of current social problems and their historical roots.
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
Knowledge of history adds depth and beauty to almost any subject or issue. I vividly remember attending World Civ classes and having constant “ah ha!” moments. World Civilization (as well as my other history classes) helped me to understand the ideas, influences, people, and events that have shaped the world we live in. My studies in history helped me learn how to ask and to appreciate tough questions—like those asked by Faculty Emeritus Dr. Dean Rapp in his Nazi Germany class—and how to understand the diversity of philosophies and worldviews in the world. These skills coupled with the knowledge that it is important to always work to “tell the truth about history” have proved invaluable to me in not only my career, but in my personal life as well.
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?
The History Department at Wheaton College has some of the best faculty on campus—I would encourage all history majors to not only enroll in history classes, but get to know the faculty as well. I took a Directed Individual Study course with Dr. Melissa Franklin Harkrider, and it was one of my favorite experiences at Wheaton as it allowed me to study a specific area of history and work one-on-one with a talented member of the faculty.
If you have gone on to graduate work, can you suggest some tangible connections between your history major and your graduate studies?
I am currently pursuing a M.S. in sociology, and my history undergraduate degree provided me with the perfect foundation to pursue graduate studies. From studying history at Wheaton, I learned how to ask critical questions, conduct thorough research, eloquently articulate an argument, and see beauty in the complexity of both the past and the present. I also learned how to examine small issues with the big picture in mind and vice versa—all through the lens of my faith. I am extremely appreciative of the knowledge and skills that I gained as a Wheaton College history major as they are a continual part of my success in my current graduate program even though it is in a different discipline.