by Chris McDonald, Ph.D., professor of political science
This, I say to my friends, is my break-even year. This year I will have lived in the United States as long as I lived in the country of my birth. I arrived in Springfield in late 1998, a freshly minted doctorate in hand, to take up a position at LLCC.
Before applying for the job I had researched community colleges and their emergence and growth in the 1960s. The philosophy appealed to me: a high quality, general education at affordable prices and with ease of access that lived up to the idea that everyone “got a shot at college.” What I found was very much that. I could see, first hand, how the open access gave the financially disadvantaged, the mid-career changers, the ex-military members, the mothers whose children had grown, the retirees who maintained a thirst for knowledge or sometimes just those who were not sure about their future and wanted to “give college a go” an opportunity. In general, I was not disappointed. I had not appreciated the challenges and sometimes the frustrations that come with such a broad range of students nor had I yet experienced the impact that misplaced state and federal policies can have on those students – but neither had I appreciated all of the rewards.
Ironically, because it is an idea close to my heart, one of the rewards – opportunities really – that I had missed, was how being a member of a “community college” would provide opportunities to become a part of that community; to interact with, learn from and engage with, the community. Let me take one, minor, example.
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by WWI – the “Great War”. While I am a political scientist rather than an historian, the devastating global conflict of a century ago and the way it has shaped (and continues to shape) our contemporary world has been of enduring interest to me. This has been true since the day as a 10-year-old that I stood in front of one of the enormous cemeteries that run like a livid, white scar across northern France and Belgium and wondered – why? how? and who? Much of my professional life has looked at this issue from the macro level. The economic and political forces, the ideas and alliances, the international structures that plunged the world into such a cataclysm. Through my role at LLCC, I have also been able to make much more personal and local connections.
I have just finished a five (or is that 95?) year project to bring the letters of a remarkable young Springfield native, Kent Dunlap Hagler, to the wider audience they deserve. Almost a century after his untimely death at the age of 22, Kent’s eyewitness letters can now be read. This was only possible because of the support of the college, the generosity of the Hagler descendants in the community, support from local organizations like the Illinois State Military Museum, and individuals too numerous to mention. The project brought me into contact with a broad spectrum of the community which I now call home. The time I spent researching Kent’s letters gave me a much deeper appreciation for this community, and I hope in part some of that is shared in making them available to a broader audience. Readers will hopefully gain some insight into the epoch shaping events whose centenary we are rapidly approaching. Readers may also realize the importance education played in the remarkable young man’s life, and they might also be made aware of the challenges facing education today. If they do, then the time spent on the project will have been worth it and the connection between the community and its college will be emphasized as significant in much more than name.
There is another aspect to the project that reemphasizes the community connections as well. All proceeds from the book are going to the LLCC Foundation in the name of Kent Hagler, so these too can help future generations in our community and its college.
Chris McDonald, Ph.D., is a professor of political science and 2001 Pearson Master Teacher at Lincoln Land Community College. His book, “’Three Lying or Four Sitting’ – From the Front in a Ford” is available at the LLCC Bookstore or on amazon.com, with all proceeds benefitting LLCC student scholarships.