Recent Alumnus Reflects on the History Major Experience
Pedro Regalado, who focuses on race in the American city, graduated with a bachelor's degree in history in December 2013. In this interview he explains the value of history coursework, internships, and faculty mentorship. He talks about his journey from Philadelphia to accepting a slot in the Yale University PhD program in American studies...with the Loyola History undergraduate experience being the key stop along the way.
Why did you choose to come to Loyola?
I decided on Loyola for several reasons. Before I came to Loyola, I had completed my Associates Degree at the Community College of Philadelphia and was looking to continue my studies somewhere far away! Once I decided to move to Chicago, Loyola seemed like the best overall choice based on quality of education, university culture, and school faculty. In hindsight, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Tell us about your scholarship.
My broad historical focus is the American city in the 20th century. More specifically, I’m interested in the experiences of Latinos and African Americans within these cities and the challenges they face including urban poverty, poor housing, and drugs. I am also interested in minority identity building as related to citizenship and how local and state institutions play their roles in either alleviating or worsening the conditions that these minorities face. Therefore, the central question that has guided me through the rest of my undergraduate research deals with how urban minorities have been affected by their metropolitan environments as reflected in local policies and social reform.
What type of historical research have you undertaken while at Loyola?
During the summer of 2013, under the guidance of the McNair Scholars Program and Dr. Michelle Nickerson, I undertook a research project entitled “End of Days: The ‘Puerto Rican Riots’ of 1971”. The “Puerto Rican” Riots of 1971 were a defining moment in Camden, New Jersey’s history and ultimately shaped its troubled existence today as one of America’s poorest and most dangerous cities. In the research paper I’ve produced regarding these riots, I argue that their occurrence resulted from a troubled relationship between the emergent Puerto Rican community, a neglectful city government, and an abusive police force.
In order to conduct the research necessary to prove this thesis, I spent a month in the New Jersey area collecting census data, acquiring information that had yet to be recorded, and examining newspaper microfilm and archival collections. In addition, I was able to contact and interview four individuals who played crucial roles in the events surrounding the riots. Spanish being my native language, I was also able to use this as I walked Camden’s streets communicating with some of those in the Puerto Rican community who could lead me in the right direction.
Subsequent to this, I was able to present my research at the 32nd Annual Council for Opportunity in Education Conference this past September as well as the22nd Annual National McNair Undergraduate Research Conference and Graduate Fair in November 2013. I have also been invited to present my paper in a historically focused panel at the 44th Urban Affairs Association Conference in San Antonio, Texas in 2014.
Talk about the value of your internship.
For better or for worse, internships are supposed to help guide your future planning. For me, taking upon this independent research internship and incorporating it with the history blogging program has been the most enriching experience in my educational career. Not only did I have the time of my life, but I also found out that researching history is what I am meant to do. The autonomy that researching granted me, along with the deep introspective critical thinking that was involved, is exactly what I want in a career. Better yet, one’s job as a historian is to then communicate this experience with others through the research itself: a very rewarding idea.
What faculty have you worked with and how did they help you to give shape to your work?
The faculty member that stands out most as the person responsible for my development as a historical thinker is Dr. Michelle Nickerson. I really could not have asked for a better mentor. Dr. Nickerson helped to shape the perspective with which I approached the history of the Puerto Rican riots, but she also did so in a way that would allow me to apply these methodologies to future research as well. I cannot begin to overstate her influence on me.
Dr. Kyle Roberts was also highly instrumental in refining the skills that I had learned during my summer internship. His Honors History course gave me the opportunity to continue to work on my research project while thinking about the underlying arguments revolving how to approach historical scholarship. My research project could not have grown as it did without his help.
Another two professors who have helped shape my thinking and writing skills have been Dr. Suzanne Kaufman, whose door has always been open to my concerns and whose advice I always cherish, and Dr. Elizabeth Shermer, whose specific writing tips have been essential to my growth as a writer.
What does the future hold in store for you?
This coming August, I will begin my doctoral studies at Yale University’s American Studies program. I chose Yale because the intellectual diversity in the American Studies program would provide me with the best opportunity to grow in different ways. It would allow me to approach history from different angles and with non-traditional methodologies which I believe are essential in understanding American urban history during the latter half of the 20th century. Yale’s depth, with regard to faculty, is incredible and the professors that I would be working with are at the top of their fields. I’m ecstatic about the opportunity, but gaining it was truly a team effort.