Jacqueline Woodfork doesn’t just want to talk with her advisees about history. Or even class planning. Or life after college.
She also wants to hear about their current lives and get to know them, and for them to get to know her.
Like in 2018, when she had several advisees who played for the Whitman College baseball team. She filled her car with other students and drove everyone over to Borleske Stadium so they could cheer on their classmates.
“The players were really happy that people came out to see them,” said Woodfork, an associate professor in Whitman’s Department of History. Those are the types of relationships and connections she tries to develop with all of her students.
“It’s about recognizing that college is not solely about the academics — there’s a lot that we learn outside the classroom,” she said. “It’s also about seeing another side of somebody. It’s interesting, when you see a student in class, and then you see them performing in a play or playing in a baseball game. You appreciate people as whole beings and not just academic beings.”
Her efforts to develop relationships with her pre-major and major advisees doesn’t go unnoticed by her colleagues. In spring 2019, she received the George Ball Award for Excellence in Advising.
“Professor Woodfork has proven to be an invaluable mentor and role model for students, especially to students of color,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Alzada Tipton during the award ceremony. “She is described as simultaneously compassionate and demanding, striving to help students reach their greatest potential.”
Understanding the Future through the Past
For her part, Woodfork enjoys the investment she gets to make in students as she guides them through their majors and academic careers. She also knows firsthand the value of good advising. As an undergraduate student studying French at Middlebury College in the late 1980s, her own advisor pushed her to take a history course, igniting a lifelong passion for the subject.
“I think I was maybe born a historian. I’ve always been interested in things that happened in the past and wondering how they came to be,” she said.
Woodfork specializes in African history, specifically Senegal during World War II and modern Francophone West Africa. She has a master’s and doctorate in history from the University of Texas at Austin. She came to Whitman in 2006 after teaching at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Woodfork combines her love of history and French in her work, and is currently working on a book about WWII veterans and the ways in which they came to “feel French.” A future project examines the histories of African prisoners of war in Germany.
“I find my field and I find what I do to be incredibly interesting. It’s cultural military history, which I think for a lot of people raises eyebrows,” she said. “I work with veterans for their understanding of how the military treated them and how that affected not only their time in the military, but their outlook on things. I do archival work and I use oral sources as well, so putting those two together has led to some really interesting ways of being able to look at their pasts.”
Woodfork views history as an incredibly valuable major for Whitman students, particularly those who are interested in earning advanced degrees.
“Being a history major doesn’t mean you have to become a historian. It’s a perfect pre-law major,” she said. “There’s so many ways in which history is helpful. Sometimes it’s helpful to remind students that there are myriad ways in which they can use what they have learned academically.”