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Shannon Tyburczy ’01 (Nazareth, Pa.) has been awarded a James Madison Fellowship to pursue a master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis on American constitutional history. The James Madison Fellowship is the leading award for secondary teachers undertaking the study of the Constitution.

A double major in history and Russian and East European studies, Tyburczy will receive up to $24,000 over the next two years to complete her degree.

She also was a recipient of a Lafayette Alumni of the Lehigh Valley Award, given annually to seniors in the area who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement, and a Class of 1910 Prize, awarded annually by the Department of History to senior students who have excelled in the study of history or in an allied field of humanities, and who manifest the greatest promise for responsible civic leadership and public service. She also is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Tyburczy just finished her honors thesis, which examined the relationship between Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and the nation’s state assembly, the Duma. Her research included use of multiple Russian-language sources. “I am amazed when I consider the fact that the tsar’s October Manifesto of 1905 contained so little as compared to a document [the U.S. Constitution] written more than a century before,” she says. “I believe the October Manifesto, with its vague references, is an excellent example of what a constitution should not be.”

Tyburczy’s thesis adviser was Joshua Sanborn, assistant professor of history, who joined the Lafayette faculty in 1998. Sanborn holds a Ph.D. in Russian history from the University of Chicago, where he wrote his dissertation on “Drafting the Nation: Military Conscription and the Formation of a Modern Polity in Tsarist and Soviet Russia.” An article entitled “The Mobilization of 1914 and the Question of the Russian Nation: A Re-examination” was published earlier this school year in Slavic Review.

“It’s been great to work with Shannon,” he says. “Her thesis came out very well. She did a comparative study near the end as she was revising it, bringing in material about Japan. She thought a lot about how monarchs in the modern era have to deal with the fact that more people are getting involved in politics. Monarchies are not constructed to deal with this and a number have had difficulties with it. Her detailed study showing how Czar Nicholas II failed to negotiate this change was very strong.”

Tyburczy has always been interested in history, from her studies of Russia to comprehending America’s legacy. “I like to teach a younger generation,” she says. “A lot of schools should go into more depth in history and government, especially the Constitution. It’s a passionate subject for me; I love it and want to share it.”

She also believes that study of the United States Constitution should be an integral part of a student’s secondary education program. “In many cases, the Constitution itself is not studied; the symbolic nature of this historic document overshadows its actual content,” explains Tyburczy. “However, by examining the Constitution in detail, one can better understand how our country operates.”

Learning and understanding history can better prepare students to face the problems of today, she adds. “A clear grasp of the past shows how and why we are the way we are, and understanding that will help us to avoid the same mistakes in the future. In a similar stroke, study of the Constitution teaches us how our government works, and, in effect, why it works. Perhaps this understanding will lead to a greater respect for our institutions and an appreciation for them as well.

Tyburczy’s enthusiasm and grasp of history will serve her well as a teacher, notes Sanborn. “Above all, she really likes what she’s doing,” he says. “She came to me for her thesis having already read a lot of books that I was going to suggest. She was interested in the Russian court, and what she did in her free time was read history and immerse herself in that period. That kind of deeply felt love of what she’s doing is what is going to make her a great history teacher. She will be able to present the material to students, but even more importantly, to communicate her passion.”

Tyburczy is grateful for the chance she has had to learn Sanborn and from visiting part-time instructor John Squarcia, who teaches Lafayette’s education courses and made her aware of the James Madison Fellowship. “He’s been very helpful with my interest in being a teacher,” she says. “He’s been very supportive and sat down with me to discuss grad schools and places where I would like to apply.”

Squarcia holds Tyburczy in the same high esteem. “She’s an exceptional student,” he says. “I’ve been encouraging her to pursue a career in education because I think she’d make an excellent teacher. She has a very broad background in the social sciences, particularly in world affairs and American government. She fits all the characteristics for a James Madison Fellowship recipient; I was thrilled that she was able to reach that goalI think the award says first of all, that the person has a strong desire to enter the field of education, and second, that they have an exceptional intellectual capacity in the area of Constitutional law and American government. She’s just a terrific student and I’m sure she will be outstanding in the classroom.”

Receiving the James Madison Fellowship caps off a positive experience for Tyburczy at Lafayette. “One of the best things is the professors and the small classes,” she says. “With writing my thesis this year, I could always go in and talk to professor Sanborn, who spent a lot of time helping me. I don’ t know whether another school could have given me the opportunity where I could walk into his office and go over every page of my thesis, then hand it over to the review committee and get it back after the weekend. The faculty put a lot of time into helping me do my best and motivating me.”

In addition to her academic achievements, Tyburczy is a writing associate and member of the History Club.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to improve instruction about the U.S. Constitution in secondary schools. The foundation is an independent agency of the Executive Branch of the federal government. Funding comes from Congress and contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.

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