Robert Cook is a 2017 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University with a degree in history and social science. After earning a degree in government at Johns Hopkins University, he teaches high school and dual enrollment government and world history at Powhatan High School.
Describe your field of study and research.
After graduating from EMU, I studied government at Johns Hopkins University concentrating on political communication and democracy studies. My thesis topic was on the importance of local government and how it has a greater impact on the everyday lives of citizens than our federal and state governments that tend to dominate the headlines. I examined this through a case study of the impacts high school consolidation in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and national trends to consolidate schools.
After I finished graduate school, Paul Yoder [professor of teacher education at EMU] and I wrote an article for the Oregon Journal of the Social Studies, where we used a lesson about school consolidation in Rockbridge County as a way to teach how local government works through inquiry and primary source research.
How did your academic studies and professors at EMU prepare you for your graduate studies?
Professors Paul Yoder and Mary Sprunger helped me immensely in my preparation for graduate school. My senior history seminar thesis focused on Rockbridge County’s school and local history and I carried that over into my Honors Program capstone, where, under Paul’s guidance, I used my research to develop lesson plans to teach students about local government.
These two projects challenged my ability to synthesize, summarize, and analyze a ton of information in such a way that I could present it clearly to a younger audience. Going into graduate school, these skills were useful for my work on my thesis portfolio and for comprehensive assignments and projects for my other classes.
What do you think made your application to graduate school stand out among others?
I think the focus of my writing samples on local government helped. I submitted one short paper that I wrote in a juvenile justice course about the closing of one juvenile facility in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Most of my colleagues in the graduate program were focusing on national or state level issues of government and politics. While these are still important, my focus on the local level from Day One provided a unique perspective. While my colleagues would focus on President Trump, redistricting, and partisanship, I would discuss how individual communities would be affected by different policies.
What attracted you to attend EMU as an undergraduate?
When I was looking at different colleges I had three criteria: I wanted to go to a school with a strong education program, I wanted to go to a Christian university, and I wanted to run cross country. As I got to know some of the faculty and staff through my visits at EMU, I felt that not only did it fit my criteria, but that I was at home. Even though my family had a strong military background — very different from a Mennonite one — I was accepted by the staff and eventually my peers in my first semester. EMU provided a welcoming community along with the tools for success I was seeking.
What are some favorite memories of your time at EMU?
I best remember my time with my cross country and track and field teammates. We bonded well, had great discussions, and were very competitive against other teams. My roommates all studied very different majors from me, so I remember always discovering different or unique perspectives in conversation. My time at EMU helped me grow a lot.
What do you think makes EMU graduates distinctive?
Their focus on worldview and placing their perspective in the context of other perspectives. This focus fosters a big picture approach to problem-solving and critical thinking when it is easy to get stuck in the small details.
Tell us about your current work and what you most enjoy about it.
I currently teach government, both regular and for college credit, and world history at Powhatan High School. I greatly enjoy the discussions that take place in my government classes. It is an interesting time to study our president and Congress, and the students have so many questions and are genuinely interested. My students in all of my classes are very curious and I enjoy working with them and teaching them through their inquiry.