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125th anniversary becomes English research project

ECC English project

A quasquicentennial (125th) anniversary is a momentous occasion, so as Ellsworth Community College celebrates this milestone achievement in 2015, English instructor Honoria Balogh decided her students should get in on the action. Three sections of English Composition I, 60 students in all, did research projects on various aspects of the College’s history, and the results have amazed everyone!

“There’s a poster in my classroom with 1890 on it, the year of Ellsworth’s founding, so our College history is always on my mind,” explains Balogh. “We’re the oldest community college in Iowa, having been founded as a private four-year college, transitioning to junior college status, and then becoming a part of Iowa Valley Community College District in 1968. It has been my observation that our students are somewhat oblivious to the College’s history, even though my classes are held in the oldest and most beautiful building on campus, so I decided to involve them in commemorating the anniversary. I didn’t know what that would involve or look like, but my goal was to help students realize that the people before them have affected their lives at ECC today.”

A huge inspiration and help to the students was found on the History of Iowa Falls Facebook site established by retired ECC professor Richard Gaulke. Recently featured in the Times-Citizen , Gaulke has scanned and posted thousands of old Iowa Falls photos, including many of Ellsworth Community College. The conversations and commentaries on the Facebook site inspired Balogh to involve her students. And once the project was under way, her students were pleased to be able to post questions and get a myriad of responses from Iowa Falls history buffs.

Among the topics researched and documented by Balogh’s students were the life of ECC founder Eugene S. Ellsworth, the history of specific past and present buildings on campus and in the community, the history of various Panther athletic programs, famous alumni like Joseph Gomer, the alleged paranormal presence in Bullock Jones Hall, and much more.

The students could write a profile or research paper about some aspect of Ellsworth Community College. Most interviewed one or more former/current employees and researched historic files and documents in the Ellsworth College Foundation Office and ECC’s Osgood Library. Final projects included oral reports, written reports, as well as posters, PowerPoint presentations, videos, Facebook pages and websites.

Eldon Rahmiller, the ECC media guru who has been enjoying retirement for over a decade, came to speak to the students about his memories and experiences. He reminded the classes that “Ellsworth is a lot like America; they made it up as they went along.” Throughout their research, students had plentiful opportunities to discover how the College had adjusted to new circumstances each time they arose.

Ellsworth College Foundation Director Kaitlyn Bartling was instrumental in connecting student researchers with friends and alumni of the College for interviews.

“The Foundation recognizes how much the success of Ellsworth has been built on long-term relationships,” says Bartling. “We really treasure the history we have access to in our vault and in our personal contacts; we don’t get the chance to share that very often.  It was so much fun to connect students to resources that varied from looking at yearbooks and former campus building blueprints to contacting past students and instructors for interviews. Sometimes our resources weren’t extensive, but in each case where we asked for help from past instructors and board members we received an enthusiastic response.”

Balogh says one of the coolest things for students was that ECC librarian Sandra Greufe allowed them access to historic documents. “They were able to look through old leather-bound yearbooks and other documents to research changes in costs, academic programs, student clothing and activities, and everything else associated with the College. They were especially amused by the language, descriptors and phrases that were used in past eras.”

Balogh adds that the biggest challenge was that much of the College’s history is not documented online … students couldn’t just “google it” and get all the details they needed. “Even though the research was a challenge, my students were engaged and enjoyed the project immensely,” says Balogh. “Eugene Ellsworth died in 1907, but these students learned that his legacy continues through Foundation scholarships and the support of the Ellsworth College Board of Trustees. I think they appreciate that now!”

Balogh gives special thanks and credit to Sandra Greufe and the ECC Osgood Library staff, Kaitlyn Bartling and the Ellsworth College Foundation Office staff, Richard Gaulke, Eldon Rahmiller, and all those who agreed to be interviewed.

PHOTO Caption: ECC English Instructor Honoria Balogh helps students research historical documents at the College’s Osgood Library.

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