Tyler Todd ‘12 first to receive History Honors Degree under new honors program

Tyler Todd '12 (center) with PC history professors (from left) Dr. Alan Shackelford and Dr. Rick Heiser. 

Presbyterian College student Tyler Todd of Waterloo, S.C., became the first student to graduate with honors under the history department’s newly restructured honors program.

A double major in history and political science with a minor in French, her honors project involved original research and an extensive research paper she presented to the department. For her project, Todd chose to research Laurens County and the experience with “The Lost Cause.”

The Lost Cause refers to the ideology crafted by many white Southerners after the Confederacy was defeated during the U.S. Civil War. From 1865 to the present, the Lost Cause has served two purposes, according to Todd’s research. First, she concluded, it was a coping mechanism that allowed white Southerners to find glory in defeat. Second, she wrote that it veiled the reality of slavery in a vision of heritage, giving them justification for maintaining a racial apartheid despite federally mandated emancipation and constitutionally guaranteed equality. Within the Lost Cause, said Todd, Southerners were able to ignore the role of slavery in the Civil War while placing stock in admirable Confederate attributes such as honor, bravery, and chivalry. It is due to the Lost Cause, she wrote, that the South took such a long time to commit itself to racial equality.

“Many people learn new information while in college, but Tyler grew by challenging her preconceptions and prior assumptions. This created opportunities for herself and, in turn, the history department,” said Dr. Alan Shackelford, visiting assistant professor of history and Todd’s mentor. “Tyler grew and matured as both a scholar and an individual while working through the honors project and as a student at PC. Tyler today is more a product of her own thinking than she was two years ago. That is one of most gratifying things a teacher can see in a student.”

Todd declared as a history major in her freshman year. While attending PC, she was determined to get the most out of the college experience. She remained active in all of her classes and was accepted into the Phi Alpha Theta history honors society.

In the summer of 2011 she participated in the Summer Fellows Program, a summer research program that would expand her knowledge and research capabilities. That fall, she joined the revitalized history club and completed an internship in the archives at PC. At that time, she was encouraged to complete honors level research.

“The history department’s goal is to identify top level students and challenge them to pursue their talents and goals through the program,” said Shackelford. “Tyler is the first student to be a Summer Fellow and to go through the history department honors program. These academic opportunities are the kind you will find at the very best liberal arts colleges in the country.”

The new honors program as designed by the history department is more formal and rigorous. “It’s designed to ensure that the students who embark upon this demanding course will be in a position to succeed. It requires students to be intentional and thoughtful as they begin the project, and it helps the department’s faculty engage with the project from its earliest conception to its ultimate completion,” said Shackelford.

“I knew it would be challenging, but it was also very fun,” said Todd. “All the professors in the department were instrumental in the overall process. Each of them taught me key elements that shaped and molded my interest and brought me to the point where I was prepared and able to successfully complete the honors program.”

One of the most significant elements of the honors program is the mentor/mentee relationship. For PC, this structure allows faculty to see the potential in students and help each one of them achieve it in their own way.

“The professors at PC care about me beyond my academics,” said Todd. “Their support and constant inquiries during the research process were much needed and greatly appreciated.”

In her final semester at PC, Tyler took 18 hours of course work and completed the honors research project.

“It was difficult juggling everything and the experience improved my time management skills and increased my level of patience,” she said.

Todd is described by her professors as a self-starter with initiative.

“She created a schedule and structure to make it happen and to be successful,” Shackelford said. “Most people want to know that a significant level of work will achieve a guaranteed result. Research and scholarship make no such promise; it is very entrepreneurial in that sense. Tyler took a risk; she asked a question, researched it, and found a compelling answer to it.”

“The process taught me to be open minded, tolerant and flexible,” Todd said. “My goal was to take a complex and polarizing issue and make it such that people with opposing views can understand one another.”

Todd attributes much of her success at PC to the nurturing environment and the mentoring relationships that are so prevalent among faculty at the school. Programs like Summer Fellows and the History Department’s Honors are not only about students achieving academic excellence. They are about fostering relationships on campus that will help them in its pursuit. Scholarship is often viewed as a solitary endeavor done at tables or carrels in labs or libraries. But as Todd attests, at PC it is done in the context of supportive and sustaining collaboration.


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