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Senior, double major receives national history award

​Darby Witek (right) and Dr. Lauren Acker discuss Witek's plans for the future. Darby Witek is passionate about education— both her own and helping others expand their knowledge and curiosity.

The senior, double major in history and English plans to teach after graduation. Her efforts at Georgia College recently garnered her national recognition as a top undergraduate history scholar. She was one of only 16 students in the country to receive the Gilder-Lehrman History Scholar Award.

“I am honored and humbled to receive this national award,” said Witek, who also has a Spanish minor. “It’s a great acknowledgement of work I’ve been able to do at Georgia College along with my great professors who have mentored me along the way.”

The Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Award fosters students’ interests in American history and recognizes their achievements as undergraduates. The History Scholars Award program includes lectures, archival visits and tours of historic sites. The application included a research paper and recommendations from faculty members.

“Darby assisted me in my U.S. history survey course, and from working with her, I could see she cared a lot about history education, so I encouraged her to apply for the award,” said Dr. Lauren Acker, lecturer in the in Department of History and Geography.

On top of receiving this national award, Witek has also been named the outstanding senior for the department.

“We can tell that she cares not only about learning, but also about asking thoughtful questions to have a complete understanding of concepts,” said Acker. “Darby doesn’t know how to do anything half way— she gives everything 110 percent. That will serve her well as she makes her mark on education by facilitating the learning of others.”

This achievement helps build a foundation for her career, which begins right after graduation.

“I’ll be working with Teach for America after I graduate,” said Witek. “I know I’ll be assigned to an elementary school in Arkansas at this point and will soon begin to interview with specific schools to determine exactly which school I’ll be at in the fall.”

Teach for America is a program that seeks professionals and recent graduates from a wide variety of backgrounds with a commitment to social justice and the leadership necessary to teach for at least two years in a high-needs school. Currently, Corps members are from more than 800 colleges and universities.

"I can say absolutely that Darby really is a model for what the liberal arts mission at GC provides. As a double major, Darby completed two different capstone projects, one more scholarly in history and the other more of an internship, teaching English to children in Peru for the Department of English and Rhetoric,” said Dr. Katie Simon, assistant professor of English and rhetoric. “These projects have poised her uniquely both for the Teach for America job and a teaching career should she wish it, but also for advanced graduate study in American Studies, which I know she is interested in pursuing.”

For Witek, education has been key in opening doors she never thought imaginable including the opportunity with Teach for America.

“One of the most significant experiences at Georgia College was being able to serve as an supplemental instructor,” she said. “Not only did I confirm that I wanted to teach, but I got to lead discussions and work closely with the professors. I truly treasure that experience and think it prepared me for this award and my opportunity with Teach for America.”

After she serves in Teach for America, Witek says she has several options for her future, but she knows she wants to stay in the education field.

“I’ve always wanted to teach, and the opportunities I’ve had in college prepared me to do just that,” she said. “I may pursue a master’s degree in history or possibly try to teach at the high school or college level, but I know I will be focused on passing the importance of education along to future generations.”

She gives credit to her educators at Georgia College for igniting that passion.

“Dr. Katie Simon of the English department as well as Dr. Stephen Auerbach, Dr. Rachel Shelden and Dr. Lauren Acker in the history department have all been deeply influential in my development as a English and history double major and in my application to Teach for America,” said Witek. “My relationships with them have been absolutely fundamental to who I am today, both as a student and as an aspiring educator. They are testaments to the amazing experiences I have had due to Georgia College’s emphasis on exceptionally talented and passionate professors.”

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