Benjamin Montoya shares history lessons with SU students

Assistant Professor of History Dr. Benjamin Montoya combines his loves of rock music and history, teaching 90 plus Schreiner University students per semester and playing drums, along with his wife, Haley Dove Montoya, for worship services at First UMC. His first history book is due out in April.

Dr. Benjamin Montoya says his work as an assistant professor of history at Schreiner University includes teaching classes, advising students, being of service to the SU community, and researching within his particular specialization in the field of history.

He says he teaches both lower and upper-level classes each semester. His lower-level students are freshmen and sophomores, who may be taking history as part of their general requirements, necessary in many majors. The U.S. history classes cover from colonial times to the present, and he usually teaches three sections.

His upper-level classes are more specialized, he says. The students tend to be juniors and sophomores, and many of them are majoring in history. "I teach one section per semester, so it rotates. I have a class in Mexican History, one in U.S.-Latin American relations, and one on U.S. relations with third-world countries during the Cold War. The third-world countries are the Latin-American countries of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba; African countries of Congo, Angola, and Ethiopia; and middle eastern countries of Egypt, Israel, Iraq, and Iran. This spring I'll be teaching a course on the history of the Vietnam Wars, 1945-1975."

He says in a typical semester he has more than 90 students. Besides grading tests and papers and recording grades, advising students includes making sure they can get the assistance they need to study successfully. In particular, the 15 to 20 history majors are advised by Schreiner's three history profs.

Serving the university community includes working on committees. Montoya says he chaired the Quality Enhancement Plan-Advising Committee last year, which was designed "to improve academic advising and student self-efficacy," enhancing student engagement with faculty. He is also coordinator of the "Texas Studies" interdisciplinary minor, which educates students about the state; and he's on the Academic Affairs Committee.

He says the AAC reviews SU programs, including proposed new classes and any academic changes. It makes sure Schreiner is meeting its larger academic goals. For example, SU just unveiled a new major in speech therapy.

As for research, Montoya says he has published and presented several articles, and his first book, "Risking 'Immeasurable Harm:' The Diplomacy of Immigration Restriction in U.S.-Mexico Relations, 1924-1932" is with the University of Nebraska Press, and is due out April 1, 2020. He says, "It is already listed for pre-order on Amazon."

Montoya says, "By studying history, we can learn why we see problems in the world now. As nations develop, why do some prosper, and some not? The history of diplomacy can show us why alliances change, and how leaders interact. We have a tendency to mystify past leaders, but they were flawed humans, just like we are, trying to deal with the circumstances they faced and figure out what to do. A lot of the pressures we face now, are the same ones they faced in the past."

He says his history majors have several choices when it comes to their future. The most obvious is to become a professor or teacher, but he also sees value in studying history, and learning to weigh different sides, for lawyers. Politicians have to learn to sift vast amounts of information and summarize. Then there are the historians who work with museums.

And ultimately, Montoya quotes Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish-born philosopher. "We learn history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed, but to know who we are."

Montoya says he was born in Las Vegas the summer Elvis died. He learned to play the guitar when he was 14 or 15, and while he was in Chaparral High School he played in a punk rock band. When he was 19, the band's drummer quit, and they talked him into taking over. "I was always tapping on something anyway." He graduated in 1996, then studied history at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He admits, "I wasn't a very good student in high school, but I improved as I went along." He earned his bachelor of arts in 2000, concentrating in diplomatic history.

After graduating, Montoya says he moved to Seattle, where he provided worship music at a youth ministry run by his cousin, Paul Barrett. "My family has a history of Presbyterian ministry," Montoya says. "My mother, Susan Montoya, after a career in physical therapy, recently earned her master of divinity, and now she's chaplain for Peterson Hospice. She was born in Ecclesfield, England. Her sister, Patricia, met and married a U.S. airman, and they were transferred to Nellis AFB, in Nevada. In 1970 Susan went for a visit, and ended up marrying Francisco Montoya. They were married in England, and planned on staying, but the economic conditions in Britain made the U.S. a better choice. That's how we ended up in Las Vegas."

Montoya says he returned to UNLV in 2002, and earned his master of arts in 2004, concentrating in soviet diplomatic history. Paul's wife, Devon, still in Seattle, thought Montoya should meet another musician, Haley Dove, so she introduced them long-distance. Montoya says, "We started emailing Valentines Day of 2005. I went up for a visit and met her. I moved to Seattle in May. Christmas Eve of 2005 I proposed, and we married in May of 2006."

He says though teaching at first frightened him, he took his first position at Highline Community College in 2006. "I cut my teeth there, and started building my chops. In 2009 I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder, and earned my Ph.D in December of 2015."

He says he had been an adjunct professor at CU for three semesters when a colleague, Michael Cude, told him Schreiner had a search committee looking for a history prof. Montoya applied, and was offered a position.

"I always lived in cities," he says. "Haley and I had never seen a town like Kerrville. When I interviewed, I walked around, and I liked what I saw. In July, 2017 a buddy and I drove a U-Haul down, towing our car. Haley flew down with our four-year-old son Elais and our daughter, five-month-old Isla. Elias is six now, a first-grader at Heritage School in Fredericksburg. Isla is almost three, and stays at home with Haley, who teaches private music lessons and works part-time at First UMC."

He says moving to Kerrville has an extra benefit. In their Colorado apartment his drums had been boxed up. Now he has dusted them off, and is making music, along with Haley, for the contemporary services at First United Methodist Church. "Rock and history," he says, "I get to do both."

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