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Instructor Spotlight: Mike Ryan, History Instructor, Educates on The Importance Of The Past

Instructor Spotlight: Mike Ryan, History Instructor, Educates on The Importance Of The Past
October 14, 2022 Aysha Jarnesky

You have to study the past to know the present, the study of history defines the future. UHMC History instructor Mike Ryan is an educator of history who has a knack for immersing students in the subject in an engaging way. History had never peaked my interest before but I was enlightened when I took his History 151 course. Mike Ryan is also one of the staff administrators for UHMC’s student run newspaper, Ho‘oulu. Mike really gives off a zest for educating on the importance of learning from the past, and getting involved in news media and politics in order to contribute to making positive and lasting change in the world.

Mike Ryan, History Instructor at UHMC

Mike always liked history since the 6th grade, it was always his favorite subject.  Mike recalled moving to Maui in 2005 seeking change.  He was in search of utilizing the master’s degree he had earned from Connecticut State University.  He was given the opportunity to gain experience by becoming a lecturer and teaching two classes.  He dove in head first and found that he really enjoyed teaching. He then moved up to 3 classes, then four, then five.  He feels he got lucky, the timing was right, and his destiny all fell into place. 

    “I had my masters in history, but I really didn’t have any teaching experience.  I thought ‘how am I supposed to gain experience?  How do you gain experience if no one gives you a chance? I taught as many classes as I could. My philosophy was since I had never taught before, the more classes I teach, the better I’d get.  Eventually I became a full time lecturer.  Then I was hired as an instructor in 2017.”

Mikes teaching goals flourished and he began to really ponder, what information was important for students to learn and how could he make learning history interesting and retainable?   Mike  was surprised to find support and inspiration through other instructors, recalling that people were really helpful in sharing insights and advice on how to get information across.  That is attributed to his growth as an instructor. Mike recalled a moment that perpetuates why he is so enthusiastic about teaching history.

“I just like talking about history! I’m a dork like that! I have to say, I remember one student said to me- ‘I don’t like history but I really love your class.’ And that made me feel really good. My main goal is to get students to see history as more that just- oh that’s what happened, thats the end of it. We need to look at it as a discipline that’s in constant flux, its always changing, we learn new things about the past all the time. I think it’s important to see how we look back and relate the past to the present. I love that if a couple students become interested to understand the past through my class then I feel I’ve done a good job. Not only can we learn from history, but we can change it today. We can make it more relevant and look towards the future, and we can learn from the past to create change in the future. Students should learn of topics such as the doctrine of discovery, the reconstruction era of America, and the 1960’s era.”

Mikes enthusiasm towards history is infectious, and he enjoys teaching about events that it seems students haven’t learned about. He points out different events in history that students find interesting, and helps to make that connection that historic events directly correlate to the issues of today. I admitted to Mike that prior to his class, I never got excited about history. I learned and experienced first hand from Mike, and I now have a newfound appreciation and respect for history. Mike uses a boulder analogy to describe why history is important.

    “Imagine a boulder rolling from the top of a mountain.  On its way down it keeps picking up everything in its way, and brings all of that to the bottom.  That’s what history is, it brings everything that has ever happened directly to today.  You cant just shake it off or scrape it off the rock.  Its always gonna be there until we deal with everything at present.”

Mike hopes to instill an appreciation of history in students. He believes that history should be engaging, like an interesting and ongoing discussion that is to be questioned. He hopes students can make connections and even see the consequences of the past in today’s world. Furthermore, Mike hopes that students can learn and understand that knowing history is directly linked to change making in todays society. This is the way we must push towards change.

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