Lecturer, BA in Security Studies
Dr. Geoff Hamm has taught in the BA in Security Studies program since 2015, when he was brought here by a fortunate set of circumstances. A former colleague suggested that he take her place when she left and he was happy to be a part of a unique program such as this.
Dr. Hamm's research background is in military history, intelligence, and international relations in the First World War, but his historical interests run much broader geographically and chronologically. He has taught everything from large undergrad survey courses in Western History, to classes on the Cold War, to the History of the modern Middle East at the University of Toronto, Saint Mary’s College of California, Berkeley, and now UTEP.
The subjects he teaches:
I teach the first year History and Geography surveys. For a lot of students these courses represent their first serious academic experience with these subjects, so the courses are an effort to expose them to a broad swath of material but also to teach them how to approach these subjects in a thoughtful and analytical way.
The History survey covers the major events from the First World War to the Twenty-First Century, in a mere 7 weeks! I’m sure a lot of students wonder when the course begins why we start by discussing the First World War, but I think it’s important that students understand how the international order was formed and reformed over time to become what it is today, and to see some of the bigger historical forces at work in different contexts over time.
The Geography course is an effort to expand the student’s understanding of that subject. It’s not just about labeling rivers and state capitals, but about understanding the ways in which the human interaction with the natural world changes it and creates problems that we need to overcomings like demographic growth, climate change, and how the current international order might change as these things evolve.
Where his passion comes from:
I’ve always been fascinated by history, because of its power to explain “Why”. History can explain why countries go to war with each other, why empires rise and fall. If the physical sciences can explain the natural world, History always seemed to me to be the key to explaining the human experience.
Geography was always something I thought of as a natural complement to history (though a geographer might tell you that history is a neat sidekick for geography). It’s not just human interactions that shape the world we live in, physical process do, too. These forces react on each other. Ethnic divisions in a country affect its ability to play on the international stage, for example, and how we understand geographical forces can help us explain the “Why” of history.
His proudest accomplishment and biggest challenge as an online instructor:
Let me reverse the question order and start with the challenge first. I think I would answer that question by saying that one of the biggest challenges about online teaching, in this program specifically, is also one of the most interesting things about it. Because this program draws a lot of nontraditional students, you get a wide range of ages, experiences, educational, and vocational backgrounds in the course. That kind of breadth of experience can be wonderful in discussions as people bring those perspectives to bear on the material but it is challenging to pitch the material and the assignments to such a diverse group in a way that makes sure everyone comes away feeling like they got something from it. I try to make small changes to the material every year in order to do that better.
I don’t know that I have a proudest accomplishment as an online instructor, but I do feel extremely gratified when a student comes to ask for a reference. That tells me that I’ve managed to inject some of the personality of a traditional classroom into the digital classroom, that the class resonated with the student in a way that a year or two later they’re still thinking about it, and that they feel like they put forth some of their best effort in my course. All of those things signal to me that I’m at least doing something right and that students are finding meaning in the material.
On what makes a successful online student:
I don’t think a successful online student is much different than any other. I think successful students everywhere share many of the same characteristics: discipline, a good work ethic, tries to change his classesand an open mind. Keep on top of the reading and assignments, and be willing to change what you thought you knew about something based on the evidence in front of you. I once taught a course where I gave a lecture on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and I took a few minutes debunking the various conspiracy theories that exist about that. As students filed out of class I overheard one say to a friend “I don’t care what he says, I still think it was a conspiracy.” You won’t get very far with an attitude like that, online or elsewhere.
One piece of advice he has for his students:
Stay on top of things. Don’t miss an assignment because it’s not worth as much as some others, and don’t skip the small stuff. If you’re sick or life happens and you can’t get something done on time, let the instructor know ASAP. It all matters for your GPA in the end. And, you’ll get a better education on top of it all.