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Medieval studies leads senior to prestigious graduate program

April 22, 2016
KOKOMO, Ind. — When Tucker Million began his search for the right graduate program; he knew he wanted to follow in the footsteps of a professor who influenced him while he earned his undergraduate degree.

Million, who graduates from Indiana University Kokomo in May, earned a full tuition grant valued at approximately $40,000 per year, for the Ph.D. program in medieval history at University of Rochester. He also received a stipend to cover his expenses while he is a graduate student.

Tucker Million

Tucker Million.

The university was his first choice, because Peter Sposato, assistant professor of history and one of Million’s greatest influences on campus, earned his Ph.D. there.

“If you apply yourself, IU Kokomo can set you up to do anything you want,” said Sposato. “This award is Rochester saying he’s one of their top candidates. Tucker is an example of what you can do with a history degree, and that there is a wide world of opportunities out there.”

Million, who plans to teach at the college level, said IU Kokomo professors gave him an excellent example to follow. He enrolled with plans to study the classics, but changed his focus after a Western civilization class taught by Sposato. He visited and applied to University of Rochester because it is where Sposato earned his Ph.D.

“His interest in and passion for medieval history drew me in,” Million said, adding that he enrolled in several other of his classes, studying topics including the crusades, the Romans, and chivalry.

Later, he assisted Sposato in research on two projects, studying violence and emotions among late medieval Italians, by reading literature of the period.

“It’s hard to get into the minds of people who lived 600 years ago,” he said. “Literature allows us to see how they were thinking. We can reconstruct their worldview, why they condoned violence, and why they thought it was a good thing.”

Million noted during that time period, there was legislation prohibiting showing emotions in public, because it was believed emotions led to violence, so eliminating emotion would eliminate violence.

He’s invited to present their research at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, at Western Michigan University this May. Sposato said the event, the largest conference on medieval studies in the United States, has 600 panels, but only two that include undergraduates.

“Being invited to present speaks to the quality of Tucker’s work,” Sposato said, noting that Million also presented at the conference in 2015.

Million, who also completed IU Kokomo’s honors program, appreciated the personal attention he received.

“The faculty here show how an interest and some passion can inspire students to actively engage in subjects sometimes hundreds or even thousands of years old,” he said. “I hope to do the same, since it is so hard to enjoy something being taught by someone with no interest in the subject. No matter their major, students should be able to enjoy all classes in college. I think the balance between research and teaching at the college level keeps interest alive in the subject, influencing both aspects of the job.”

Million’¬s interest in history began in an unlikely place — his calculus class at Hamilton Heights High School.

“My teacher was an amateur historian, and liked to connect calculus to historical topics,” he said. “He made me realize I could do something fairly important with a history degree.”

After Commencement and the conference, he leaves for Rochester to take an intensive Latin class, preparing for an exam he has to pass by the end of his first year of graduate school. Proficiency in reading that language, along with French and Spanish, is a necessity in the field.

Sposato said the graduate school is a good fit for Million because there are many opportunities not only to research, but to teach and gain experience, which is valuable when he looks for his first academic job.

“Rochester has an excellent record of placing its graduates in jobs in academia, if that is what they want,” he said. “IU Kokomo has set Tucker up to succeed in graduate school. A lot of students who go to graduate school in history have only studied history. They’re not as familiar with other branches in the humanities. Our degree is more interdisciplinary, which means he is well-rounded, and had great access to scholars in all disciplines.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 04/22/2016