Senior Wins Second Place at History Society Conference

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Four Southern Virginia University students presented papers at a regional Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society conference in Lynchburg, Va., where one of them — Eric Griffin — received second place in one of the two undergraduate categories.

“They were all fantastic,” said Dr. Lora Knight, associate professor of history at Southern Virginia and advisor to the university’s chapter of Phi Alpha Theta. “Our students comfortably held their own amongst high-achieving honor students from around the state. I was proud of them.”

Griffin, whose paper “Pistol Packing Peurifoy” placed second in the undergraduate category for history outside of the United States, said that he appreciated the opportunity to present at the conference.

“It was good to be able to compare the sort of work we do here at Southern Virginia with other universities,” said Griffin. “I was able to get a feel for presenting work and to see that I actually enjoy presenting papers.”

Southern Virginia University students have regularly presented at Phi Alpha Theta conferences since the university began its chapter of the society in 2006. Griffin is the second Southern Virginia student to receive a first or second place award. Knight said that Griffin receiving second place in his category was a “significant honor.”

“The session he did [at the conference] was very impressive,” said Knight. “It was a very collegial experience and the whole panel was very nicely done.”

Additionally, Knight said that the other three presenters from Southern Virginia, Grant Briscoe, Stuart Enkey and Joshua Hodges, also represented the university well in their presentations and the subsequent question and answer sessions.

“None of the students struggled with being up in front of a group,” said Knight. “They’ve had a lot of practice here at oral presentations and they did very well. They knew their topics well and they could think on their feet. I think they all had it completely under control.”

Griffin, who plans to graduate in December with a double major in history and Spanish, initially received the idea for his paper while on a Travel Study trip studying Spanish in Guatemala.

He said his paper “examined the role of John E. Peurifoy, the United States’ ambassador to Guatemala, and the role he played when the CIA overthrew the government of Guatemala in 1954.”

“It’s awesome to be able to see my education tying together in things like this paper,” he said. “It’s a paper that I wrote for a history class that now I’ll be able to put on my resume for my future career.”

After he graduates, Griffin plans to continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree and a doctorate. After finishing his graduate study, he plans to become a professor of Latin American history.

“[Griffin] is a wonderful student to have in class,” said Knight. “He’s one of those students who participates actively and always has something thoughtful to say. He’s well prepared for class, he’s a beautiful writer and he’s a delight.”

Griffin initially wrote his paper for Dr. Francis MacDonnell’s course on spies, subversives and conspiracies last fall. Griffin said that he appreciated MacDonnell’s feedback for his paper as well as Knight’s encouragement and coaching in preparation for his presentation.

“I feel like the experiences that I’ve had here [at Southern Virginia] equal or exceed the experiences that my friends are having at other universities,” said Griffin. “I’m actually expected even right now to contribute to the knowledge in either the field of Spanish or the field of history, in some cases both.”

Knight said that she thinks that students benefit greatly from the ability to participate in Phi Alpha Theta.

“I think that the Phi Alpha Theta Conference is a really valuable experience for students to have,” Knight said. “Being in a national honor society and presenting at an academic conference are good things to have on their resumes. And I think every student I’ve talked to afterward has had a positive experience and was glad that they participated.”