Tiffany Ziegler leads the path less taken
There are moments in our lives that are meant to test the core of our being, changing the way we do things, or our chosen path. For Tiffany Ziegler, Minot State University assistant history professor, her defining moments helped her discover a past that would redefine her future.
Ziegler grew up in Ogallala, Neb., a small, rural community not unlike many in North Dakota. She attended Hastings (Neb.) College on a music scholarship, with plans to become an elementary teacher.
"I knew from the very beginning I wanted to teach," she said. "I taught piano lessons, a lot of youth groups and after-school programs - it's just something that came naturally - I loved it."
Her practicum tested her mettle when a child asked her to help him blow his nose and another smeared Cheetos all over her dress. Subsequently, her destiny in elementary education was forever altered.
She "floated around" for a year without a major. Then she took a western civilization course, taught by Robert Babcock, and fell in love with it.
"I had never really studied a lot of history, but I was immediately drawn to it, "she said. "Rob was a medievalist, so I took several courses from him and quickly became a medievalist. The Middle Ages, this weird, foreign, kind of murky period from about 500 to 1500 (A.D.) in Europe, fascinated me."
After obtaining her undergraduate degree, Ziegler continued her studies, eventually obtaining a doctorate in medieval history from the University of Missouri Columbia, working under Dr. Lois Huneycutt. She came to MSU in 2009 and quickly found her stride.
"I could not have a better department in the world, they are just wonderful," she said, referring to her colleagues. "They are the kind of people I can ask anything of and they'd bend over backwards to help."
Ziegler also extends her involvement beyond the classroom. She revived the MSU History Club and tied it to Phi Alpha Theta, the National History Honor Society. She participated in Partners in Learning for peer exploration of teaching effectiveness; and she is an instructor in MSU's First-Year Experience for freshmen. Off-campus, Ziegler presents annually at the International Medieval Congress in Michigan, and has presented and published her research on social ties, charity, religious groups and hospitals in Medieval Belgium.
Despite the busy pace, her mission is simple: make history relevant for her students.
"I have a lot of fun in the classroom. My goal is not to make everybody love history, but to open peoples' eyes to the world around them. Most of the students I teach are not different from me when I grew up," she said. "If I can offer some exposure and set people on a path to understanding, then my goal's accomplished. I can't imagine doing anything else."