What are our history majors doing with what they learn in their courses? Find out.
Interview of Justin Samsa with Dr. José Solá
October 19, 2023. Cleveland State University—Department of History
José Solá: Can you tell me your name and what are you majoring in?
Justin Samsa: My name is Justin Samsa. I am currently a double major studying History and Public Administration.
José Solá: Great, thanks. So you were in my Introduction to Historical Studies (HIS299) last spring, correct?
Justin Samsa: Yes.
José Solá: And we did our timeline, and you decided to use that timeline as a way to get an internship. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you decided to use the timeline from the class and how this helped you land the internship?
Justin Samsa: Sure. So, the first way I found out about the internship was from the Department of History. It was sent out that the Glenn Research Center was looking for a historian to document certain things and conduct interviews. So it worked quite well with the assignment because the timeline was concerning– It was the part where we were on oral history. We were talking about oral history and just the passing of information, collecting information via speech, and things like that. So I think I did that specific assignment on that chapter of Green. I think that, yeah, it was Green’s book, it wasn’t Mazza[?], but on that chapter of Green’s book, just writing that out and like the process of oral history, like situations in which it’s used, strengths and weaknesses and things like that, and being able to submit that pretty much as a writing example that they wanted to see, really helped because it showed them that this is something we want to do. It’s good to have someone who understands what they’re doing because they’re working on this in their classes. So that was a big pull when they saw that I knew what oral history was and how it works.
José Solá: So once you landed it, how then, what did you do for them, and how did that experience that you had in [HIS] 299 help you comprehend more what the NASA Glenn Research Center wanted to you to do for them?
Justin Samsa: Sure. So, the main point of my work was developing a history for their design team. They have that Compass design team who works on many far-out things that do not make sense to me, but they enjoy talking about it, so that’s the important part. So, my main job was collecting interviews and other information that I could use to put into a fully finalized report that would go from the very beginning of their history to the end. So, the way things work over there, it’s very fact-oriented. It’s very objective in all of their reports and things like that. So, being able to take a more subjective approach, I was talking about, “Oh, how did you feel when you did this?”
“What were some concerns that you had?” I didn’t need to know the facts and figures behind launching or the moon’s gravity and impact on this orbiter. I needed to see what you were worried about. Why were you worried about it? How did you fix it? And how did that affect the way you worked on the team? So, concerning how the class helped that, it showed a clear-cut way to organize oral histories: how do I apply this information to something that can tell a story? Which was the big thing that I was going for. It was storytelling and interesting to read instead of, Oh, I’m reading this to better understand it. I’m reading this because I’m interested in it. I want to know more about it. I don’t need to cite it for like a work-study or something like that. It was almost like a review pretty much if– I took all the information I had, took it from these interviews, and then put it into something that would be fun to read, which– That’s what the book helped with. It helped make it the narrative it needed to be for people to want to read it.
José Solá: All right. That is fascinating. I like the idea that you took those, creating those three questions, how then you can apply what you learn in the classroom to collecting and processing the oral histories. So now, one more question: I’d like to find out how you plan to use this experience. Are you interested again in doing some more oral histories or working with a place like NASA in the near future?
Justin Samsa: I mean, working with NASA was amazing. I would love to do it again. I would be designated to a different department because I did all the work I could where I was. In the future, working on oral history was a lot of fun, but my hope is to be commissioned into the Navy after I graduate as an intelligence officer. So that would be conducting interviews on locals within a specific region, population densities, and areas shifting and changing. So, I could see myself conducting a lot of interviews if I’m on the other side of the world, talking to people about what’s going on in their community that maybe the United States would be worried about or want to gather information on that would help national security or just anything else going on. So, I think that it’ll definitely play into that, especially if I end up going the intelligence track because it will be a lot of processing that information, writing it in a fashion that people would want to read because you’re not going to sit there and drone over like bullet points on a spreadsheet or something. You want to know the story of why something’s happening, and I think that my experience, not only in your class but getting to apply that at NASA, is like a perfect stepping stone into getting into that hopeful career path.
José Solá: Well, thank you. Good luck with the future commission. That’s something that I didn’t know about you, and I didn’t expect to hear that, but I’m happy that, you know, you can see this connection between the, you know, your academic and professional and what you’re doing and you have done. That’s a perfect example of what the degree can do for us and you. So I appreciate your time and looking forward to see you again in one of my courses.