Kean Student Researchers to Present Their Work in Washington, DC

February 10, 2014

A team of four Kean University student researchers has been accepted to participate in this year's "Posters on the Hill" event in Washington, DC. Michael Collins, Christina Leedy, Anthony MacFarlane and Stephanie Valente have been transcribing and annotating former Newark State Teacher's College librarian Nancy Thompson's collection of WWII letters as their Honors Thesis Project. The students will present their project, "Remember Me To...The Newark State Teachers College World War II Letter Collection," in DC this Spring.

The Council on Undergraduate Research has hosted "Posters on the Hill" annually since 1996. The event is intended to help members of Congress understand the importance of undergraduate research by giving them the opportunity to talk directly with students.

The correspondence, a collection of more than 400 letters, documents the lives and experiences of men and women in all theaters of the war. “It is the story of the war itself, and of how these men and women came back to our country’s children to teach the meaning of freedom,” wrote Thompson.

Collins, Leedy, MacFarlane and Valente come from vastly different backgrounds, but all look forward to sharing their passion for history and for learning. A senior, Michael Collins intends to build upon this project while completing graduate work in Political Science. Christina Leedy, a single mom, returned to finish her degree to demonstrate the importance of education to her son; she is excited to pursue a Master’s Degree from Kean’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies program. Another non-traditional student, Anthony MacFarlane expects to combine his passions for service and historical inquiry to become a history teacher. The daughter of Portuguese immigrants, Stephanie Valente is proud to take advantage of educational opportunities her parents never had while preserving the powerful stories that shed insights on American history.

Reading these letters, learning about these previously unknown stories and following the various historical themes they contain has brought World War II to life for these students. Just as importantly, their project will bring these stories to life for a broader public. Working with Kean History Professors Elizabeth Hyde and Jonathan Mercantini, Liberty Hall Museum Archivist Erin Alghandoor and Shane Derris, Assistant Director of the Kean Center for History, Politics and Policy, the students are using the letters to re-capture the movement of hundreds of people and ideas from the Newark area, across the country and around the globe.

The team's collective research effforts will enable other students, teachers and the community to follow a group of notable men and women through the greatest mass mobilization in American history--from their initial processing at Fort Dix on to Europe and the Pacific. The project bears witness to the raw emotions of a generation at war, ranging from the mundane to the momentous. The letters reveal the vivid inner lives of service men and women wrestling with issues of gender, religion, race and morality.

While much has been written on WWII history, Nancy Thompson’s scrapbook is one of the last untold chronicles of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ The Kean History Honors project proudly shares these stories for posterity, and in doing so, demonstrates how WWII changed American society.