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A Passion for History: Laura Briere ’12

Mar 06, 2018


Laura BriereRandolph-Macon alumna Laura Briere '12 is a graduate student at Washington State University—Pullman, where she is a student in the Public History program, focusing on American Indian History. Her R-MC experiences helped ready her for the challenges of graduate school.

"During my time at R-MC, the course load was rigorous, but I would not change those high expectations for anything," says Briere, who majored in history and minored in secondary education. As a graduate student, Briere has worked alongside her advisor as a research assistant, using the skills and experience she gained at R-MC. "I was offered the opportunity to work as a research assistant because R-MC faculty taught me to raise my academic standards and take on unfamiliar and complex tasks," she says. "Grad school is extraordinarily tough—but it has never felt impossible, and I attribute that to the training I received as an undergraduate." 

At R-MC, Briere developed a passion for history, and after Professor Mathias Bergmann helped her secure a Simpson-Cottrell scholarship, Briere conducted research about American Indian history and wrote a 35-page paper, both of which helped her during the graduate school application process.

"Laura was a real pleasure to teach and mentor," says Bergmann. "Her determination to master the content in courses and complete projects to her best abilities was admirable, as was her eagerness to get the most out of college. She did well to prepare herself for graduate training by seeking out as many research opportunities as possible to develop her already strong research and writing abilities. In addition to a capstone project, she completed several research-intensive major courses."

"Professor Bergmann's mentorship, as well as the mentorship of the entire Education Department faculty, demonstrated to me the type of teacher that I wanted to be," says Briere. "Their encouragement and willingness to give of their time helped me develop my own classrooms. In addition, my experiences with my cohort and the Education Department faculty are among my dearest memories."

From Student to Teacher
After graduating from R-MC, Briere taught U.S. history and economics/civics at Brookland Middle School in Henrico County for four years. She was presented the First Year Teacher of the Year Award, an honor she says was especially significant.

"The first year is very daunting, so it was really special to know that I had been able to impact the lives of my students and contribute to my school family," she says. "Veteran teachers there were a tremendous support, especially during my first year."

Graduate School Research
As a research assistant at WSU, Briere assisted her advisor, Professor Orlan Svingen, with research and helped write a history of Washington State's 161st Infantry Regiment's call up during World War II. The book is currently under peer review for publication by WSU Press.

"As a part of a contracted history in conjunction with a donor gift from a World War II veteran, I wrote a 220-page manuscript on a regimental history of the 161st Infantry Regiment from the time of federal activation in 1940 until the close of the war/occupation duty in Japan at the end of 1945," she explains. "Along with Professor Svingen and another graduate student, I traveled to Camp Murray at Fort Lewis as well as the National Archives II in Maryland and the National Guard Museum in Washington, D.C. to gather primary sources. We discovered a wealth of documents, pictures, letters, journal entries, and even some film footage that contributed to telling this regiment's story. Bringing together approximately a thousand pages’ worth of primary sources as well as secondary accounts to create a coherent and accurate story was the most challenging part of this research project. I had also never written anything of that length before, so it was a new endeavor for me. It was incredibly rewarding, however, to bring it all together to describe how one former National Guard unit morphed into a respected fighting force in the midst of diverse challenges. For the first time, I caught a glimpse of the daily life of a solider. I was honored to research and tell the regiment’s story."

"This was a remarkable and unusual opportunity for an M.A.-level graduate student, and that Professor Svingen turned to Laura to work on it speaks highly of her work," says Bergmann. "She researched and wrote a book in addition to completing the normal M.A. requirements and thesis. Amazing."

Conference Presenter
Briere presented her research in October 2017 at the Pacific Northwest History Conference in Spokane, Washington, and she will present it on March 3, 2018 at Camp Murray, Washington, at the invitation of the Washington National Guard Adjutant General.

"I still get a bit nervous at the start of presentations," says Briere, "but it is also very exciting and motivating to share my research with experts in the field who can provide feedback on my project. The advice I received at the October conference has already helped me tremendously and will help me expand my research."

"As a K-12 educator and a student, Laura excelled at all she did, and her success is of her own making," says Bergmann. "The History Department is very proud of Laura and, as a WSU alum, I am particularly proud to call her a fellow Cougar."

This April, Briere will defend her thesis, and after she earns her M.A. she would like to continue to teach in secondary schools or at a community college.

"I am considering Ph.D. programs in American Indian History/Studies for the near future, but I would first like to become certified in teaching English Language Learners to enhance what I can do for my students at whatever level I am teaching," she says.

Bergmann says, "Laura’s initiative, tireless work ethic, and genuine appreciation for Native American cultures is laudable. I am not surprised in the least that she has excelled in graduate school; given what I had seen from her at R-MC, I expected nothing less."

Yellow Jacket Pride
No matter where her career takes her, Briere is ready for the challenges ahead and thankful for the Randolph-Macon community. 

"I had a remarkable experience at R-MC," she says. "I met my best friends at Randolph-Macon and some of the faculty members have become my greatest life mentors. I stay connected to faculty and friends and I'm excited to see how the college is growing. R-MC will always have my support, and the people who I met there will always be family."