Dr. Adina Kelley ’09 joined the faculty of University of Northwestern as a sabbatical replacement after earning her Ph.D. in American history in 2019 from Baylor University. She hit the ground running this fall, teaching history and political science courses in the wake of nationwide protests and helping students understand complex issues in politics, including a chapel talk addressing some of the deep factors involved in recent U.S. elections.
What are some of the courses you teach?
I teach History of Western Civilization, Intro to Political Science, History of the American Revolution and Early Republic, History of the United States from 1877–Present, and Digital Humanities and Public History.
Have you always been interested in history?
I began as a Social Studies Education major at University of Northwestern with the intent to teach. I ended up taking some classes from Dr. Jonathan Den Hartog my junior year and fell in love with history. I changed my major my senior year and then went on to study history in graduate school at Baylor University.
What part of the curriculum you teach interests you most?
I love American History! That was my area of research. I love cultural history, history of gender, and history of religion. Studying how people and their ideas and practices are formed by their past and present is fascinating to me.
Did you aspire to teach in Christian higher education when you were in college?
I entered college thinking I would teach at the high school level. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I got excited about teaching history a higher level.
Why did you choose to work at University of Northwestern?
I always thought it would be great to come back to Northwestern. Teaching at a Christian university is something that has interested me since earning my master’s degree at Baylor. I didn’t think there would be a place for me to teach at Northwestern, but I earned my Ph.D. at the same time that Dr. Den Hartog was called to teach in Alabama and Dr. Loopstra was awarded a year-long sabbatical.
What were you doing prior to UNW?
I taught history at Baylor University as a lecturer while working on my Ph.D. I won a graduate teaching award while at Baylor. That was a really big honor for me; it affirmed God’s calling on my life.
What is your favorite part about Christian higher education?
History is a really important part of the Christian faith and how we understand ourselves as humans and understand the bigger picture of what God is doing. Studying history encourages humility and empathy. It shows us how important humans are, created in the image of God, and also a small part of the bigger landscape of what God is doing.
Studying history shows us that it’s not a series of random events that have taken place. Reading about the Civil Rights movement, or Dr. Martin Luther King as a fellow believer, or about World War II—why would God allow that to happen? How is God using it?—can make us more humble as we deal with our own political systems. I get to talk through history with students and how it relates to the present day on a spiritual level.
Looking at the past makes me glorify God more! We learn more about God’s character and glory as we look back at history. Prophecy happened in the context of history in order to show how it was fulfilled. Studying history helps students become better at studying the Bible. Even Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, in essence said, “This is the history you should learn to know about me.”
What piece of advice you would give to incoming freshmen?
Take the classes you love even if you don’t know how they might get you a job. You’ll likely never get to learn new things from great scholars with your friends again! Use your electives to take the classes you love. And don’t be afraid to change your major. That’s what I did, and I’m so glad I did.
What would you say to outgoing seniors?
Keep reading! Research shows that after college most students read only one book a year. Keep it up! Keep reading in your areas of study. It will give you things to talk about and will remind you why you studied what you did in the first place.
Favorite thing to do/place to go at UNW?
When I lived on campus as an undergraduate, the old cafeteria was in the basement of Nazareth Hall. There were cubbies where the booths were. I loved to go down there and study—I could see my friends while studying and professors would have meetings there. And painting the rock.
What have you been reading recently that you’d recommend to the UNW community?
I’ve been reading The Inspector Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny. They’re great mystery novels based in Quebec, complete with snow and croissants.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to watch the Great British Baking Show. I love to bake with my friends from Texas over Zoom! And I love spending time with husband, Sam, and our kids, Benjamin (twenty-one months) and Lydia (seven months)—taking them outside or to the park.
What would you say to prospective families and students about UNW?
Northwestern professors are experts in their field. They are scholars themselves! We’re teaching history and doing history, and there are a number of opportunities for students to get significant experience in scholarly work as an undergraduate. When I was a student, I helped Dr. Den Hartog with his book. Now I am working on an article with one of my teaching assistants—something I intend to continue doing.
I’d also say that University of Northwestern is a place where you can be known and explore who you are and what you love with people that genuinely care about you: your professors, your classmates, the staff. I compare it to Baylor’s 15,000 students—like comparing a big church to a small church. It’s harder to be known at a big church and you likely won’t get to know your pastor.
At Northwestern, when something happens in your life, the people here are really invested in you and are committed to you for the long term. That’s significant and rare in higher education today.