Uncommon student, extraordinary results
It’s the stuff a professor’s dreams are made of.
A prospective doctoral student asks to join your research team. She’s intelligent, conscientious, and motivated, and her academic interests align with yours.
She’s also a non-traditional student. She lives 300 miles from campus, and she’s faced some barriers. “As an older, married student, not all universities welcomed me with open arms,” she would later say.
You know it’s been a while since she conducted academic research, but you see her potential. You give her an opportunity, and, to borrow from William Faulkner, she not only endures, she prevails.
During the course of her studies, she makes valuable intellectual contributions to your shared research and discipline. She even contributes an insightful chapter to the first in a series of books you edit.
Fast forward several years.
It’s long since she earned her PhD at WSU and you’ve maintained a fine friendship. You exchange holiday greetings and visit with her and her husband from time to time. She continues to support your ideas and helps you embark on new research avenues.
What you didn’t know when you took a chance on this uncommon student is that she and her husband are philanthropists and longtime major supporters of WSU. And you didn’t know they would become the greatest benefactors of your work, pledging $230,000 to your program this year.
A nice dream—and for Orlan Svingen, professor of history, it’s one that came true.
In 1991, Svingen met Janet Creighton, an American history scholar with interests in cultural resource management and the growing field of public history, one of Svingen’s focus areas.
While working on her master’s degree at the University of Washington, Creighton had participated in archeological excavations at Fort Nisqually in Dupont, Wash., the Fort of Good Hope in Cape Town, South Africa, and later at Fort Phil Kearney in Banner, Wyo. Wanting to further explore historical intersections between various cultures, she approached Svingen about participating in his research program.
“He treated me like a recruit,” Creighton recalled. “He spent time in his busy day to explain the program, how I would fit in, and what classes I should take.”
He also provided a healthy dose of encouragement. “Professor Svingen instills confidence in his students. He makes them realize or believe they can accomplish anything if they work hard and keep focused,” she said.
Svingen and Creighton worked together in history research for several years before he learned of her other connections to WSU and the WSU Foundation. “She was such a quiet, unassuming, studious person,” Svingen said. “When I found out who she really was, I was completely blown away.”
A history of giving
Creighton and her husband, John (“Jack”), are among the University’s most generous private donors, providing major financial support for scholarships, research, and facilities across the University. They each also have given generously of their wisdom, time, and energy as members of the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees and of several deans’ cabinets and advisory boards within the University. Jack Creighton—previously president and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Company and interim chairman and CEO of United Airlines Corporation—is former chair of the WSU Foundation and a current member the foundation’s Board of Governors.
During the past several years—well after finishing her dissertation about Washington state cultural resource and historic preservation law—Creighton and her husband have invested directly in Svingen’s research. This summer, they further demonstrated their belief in the Public History Program at WSU through a $230,000, high-impact grant to establish the John and Janet Creighton Public History (JJCPH) Project.
An extension of Svingen’s research and teaching agenda, the four-year outreach project will connect the Public History Program with ongoing historical and cultural interpretive work by government and Native American tribal groups in southwest Montana and east-central Idaho.
Historic new opportunities
For WSU undergraduate and graduate students interested in American Indian history and culture, the new JJCPH Project will provide hands-on experiential learning opportunities. It will support continuation and expansion of the history department’s Public History Field School, enabling WSU students to work collaboratively with Shoshone-Bannock tribal specialists and historical and interpretive specialists from Virginia City, Mont., and Salmon, Idaho.
The summer 2016 Field School will take students to three locations in an area steeped in Native American history and significant in the expeditions of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark: Virginia City, Salmon, and the Fort Hall (Idaho) Indian Reservation.
The Creightons’ latest gift will be “tremendous for the Public History Program’s outreach emphasis,” Svingen said. “Students working on the JJCPH Project will gain valuable training and experience in advancing their skills and the fruits of historical research well beyond the classroom and into the public arena.”
Developing deep connections
“From Jack’s central work on the Foundation and their continuing involvement in the University’s future, the Creightons have had an important impact on WSU,” Svingen said. “And while their investment in WSU, financial and otherwise, is extraordinary, few people know about their deeper connection to the University—that, later in life, Janet entered a rigorous PhD program, lived in McEachern Hall, dined at the Rotunda with a spectrum of undergraduates, joined a lively group of graduate students on a research adventure in Montana, and produced a dissertation on an important topic in American history.”
Creighton’s doctoral work focused on the history of Fort Nisqually and the “interaction, conflict, mixing, and changing of local culture, including indigenous peoples who have lived there throughout time,” she said.
Her abiding interest in American history and cultural change stems from childhood, on her family’s farm in Ohio.
“Every spring my dad would plow the large field behind our house, exposing thousands of arrowheads. As a child, I thought of the ancient civilizations that lived there before us, without connecting them to people of today. Eventually I came to realize that cultural interaction never stops and, in fact, I was actually making my own cultural contacts, changes, and observations with the young students of the 1990s at Washington State University.”