According to Tiffin University undergraduate students Alex Sklack and CJ McCrimmon, what began last semester as an average project for a history course quickly blossomed into something far more involved for them both. While some college students would surely become nauseous at the thought of taking on more work – especially volunteer work at that, the pair states they couldn’t be happier with how this unexpected-yet-delightful turn of events played out. After speaking with their cooperating instructor Dr. Michael Goodnough, TU Assistant Professor of History, it became clear he and the rest of his department shares in Alex and CJ’s excitement over it all. All of this said, what is the it – the surprise development that has TU’s historians buzzing?
Everything started when Dr. Goodnough received a phone call from the Northwest Ohio Christian Youth Summer Camp, asking if he would be willing to be brought on as a consultant for one of their projects. The camp’s goal was to uncover and document the campground’s history prior to their purchase of the land, as well as preserve items of importance related to the surrounding area, its records dating back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and earlier indigenous presence. Seeing it as a chance to give his students a firsthand glimpse into what this line of work is like in the real world, he immediately contacted Alex and CJ to gauge their interest.
“Though the camp originally reached out to me for advice on these matters, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to give my students some field-experience,” said Dr. Goodnough. This is exactly what he did, too. Once he learned that Alex and CJ were interested in such a project, he worked to facilitate this with the summer camp. He even offered Alex and CJ credit toward completion of his Public History II course for a job well done.
“Before we presented our findings, Dr. Goodnough was the only person in contact with the camp,” Alex explained. However, the pair’s advisor did everything he could as the liaison between them and the client to ensure the project’s success.
“He worked closely with us through it all,” Alex continued. “He informed us of what the camp wanted and pointed us in the right direction with our research. We also spent one day every week discussing our findings and progress with him. For me, most of this information was found at the Tiffin-Seneca Library here in town through their archives.”
While Alex and CJ were both working toward the same goal, their research focuses differed greatly.
“I focused specifically on finding out who made arrangements for the camp to come to fruition – who filled out the documentation,” said CJ. “Luckily, I was able to find a lot of preserved documentation at the Seneca County Ohio Museum. Most days, I would get out of class and walk over to do some research before heading home. One especially cool thing is that I was able to uncover what those who were involved in the camp did in their free time, such as C.A. Krout also being a superintendent for Tiffin City Schools at one point in time.”
“I focused on land deeds and plots,” said Alex. “I used this to research the camp’s history of ownership. I also looked into whether the camp was connected to the Works Progress Administration Movement of the 1930s. I ultimately found the names of several former owners and was able to see how the camp developed as it changed hands.”
After their semester-long research adventure was complete, only one thing remained – presenting their findings to the camp’s board of directors as well as Seneca County Commissioner, Tyler Shuff. Much to the pleasant surprise of Alex, CJ and Dr. Goodnough, the camp higher-ups were so impressed with the quality and depth of their results, that they asked if Alex and CJ would be willing to continue the relationship indefinitely and stay on as volunteer consultants. The pair is excited to continue this work into the summer.
“I’m very excited to continue working with the camp administrators,” said Alex. “We’re in the works of creating a memorial board to be displayed in the new cafeteria being built. The board will take the information and history we uncovered and display it for future campers and alums to see.”
In the coming months, the pair has also been tasked with turning one of the camp’s older cabins into a museum to display artifacts pertaining to the its past, as well as uncover the background of a former member of the armed forces to whom the camp’s fountain is dedicated. According to Alex, when the fountain is eventually moved into the newly built cafeteria, the plan is to have a plaque engraved to honor this John Doe.
CJ also looks forward to continuing this partnership, and states that Dr. Goodnough’s continued support and guidance has been a big confidence booster.
“Dr. Goodnough taught me everything I needed to know to be successful before I even started working with the camp,” CJ offered. “Much of what we did in his other classes involved extracting information from sources, which is exactly what I did to help the camp. This is just a research project on a larger scale.”
Dr. Goodnough couldn’t be more proud of his students, and hopes to come up with ideas similar to this in the future.
“Working with Alex and CJ on this project has been an exciting process,” he said. “Here at Tiffin, I’m able to work closely with my advisees and identify opportunities for collaboration with the local community. Whereas opportunities like this rarely exist at larger universities, Tiffin’s small yet dynamic public history program illuminates one of the greatest strengths of Tiffin University – the individualized focus students receive from faculty to support their academic and professional goals. I look forward to creating more opportunities like this for students in the future. “
To learn more about Tiffin University’s public history degree program, visit tiffin.edu/academics/school-of-arts-sciences/public-history/.