SBE’s Ruth Sensenig Awarded the only Alaskan Fellowship, and Her Thoughts on the Award

| June 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

James Madison Foundation

James Madison Fellowship Award Letter

Letter received by our principal regarding Ruth’s award! Click to view full size.


The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation of Alexandria, VA, announced today that it has selected 56 James Madison Fellows for 2013 in its twenty-second annual fellowship competition. James Madison Fellowships support the graduate study of American history by aspiring and experienced secondary school teachers of American history, American government, and social studies.

Named in honor of the fourth president of the United States and acknowledged “Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” a James Madison Fellowship funds up to $24,000 of each Fellow’s course of study towards a master’s degree. That program must include a concentration of courses on the history and principles of the United States Constitution.

The 56 James Madison Fellows were selected in competition with applicants from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the nation’s island and trust territories. The fellowships are funded by income from a trust fund in the Treasury of the United States and from additional private gifts, corporate contributions, and foundation grants. Recipients are required to teach American history or social studies in a secondary school for at least one year for each year of fellowship support. The award is intended to recognize promising and distinguished teachers, to strengthen their knowledge of the origins and development of American constitutional government, and thus to expose the nation’s secondary school students to accurate knowledge of the nation’s constitutional heritage.

Founded by an Act of Congress in 1986, the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation is an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government. Additional information may be found at

Interview with Ruth Sensenig – by Jenny Chissus

Gazette:  How did you find out about this award?

Ms. Sensenig:  I get emails advertising professional development opportunities; an announcement came in one of those emails.

Gazette:  What did you have to do to apply?

Ms. Sensenig:  I had to fill out a lengthy application that spoke of why I was a worthy candidate for the award.   Since the James Madison Foundation sponsors the award for the purpose of preparing secondary teachers to better teach about the United States Constitution, I had to write an essay about why the study of the Constitution is important to young people.

Gazette:  Why do you think you were selected?   Was there something special about your application?

Ms. Sensenig:  They select a teacher from each of the fifty states, so this was another opportunity where being from Alaska paid off.   I’m sure the competition is tougher in states with more teachers. However, I did have an advisor from the college where I will take classes read over my application, and he thought the strength of it lay in the fact that I wasn’t writing so much about why I need this award to better myself as I was writing about why Seldovia’s students deserve a quality education despite the challenges of being in a small school, where teachers have to be certified in several content areas. Furthering my own education will help me to educate them better, which is the goal of the Foundation.

Gazette:  What exactly was your award? The website mentions up to $24,000 can be awarded!

Ms. Sensenig:  The Foundation will pay for me to earn a master’s degree in history, up to $24,000. If I plan carefully, that should just about cover the entire degree.

Gazette:  Have you begun your masters, or is this the beginning of your studies?

Ms. Sensenig:  I was so eager to begin that I whetted my appetite by paying for a class in January-March of this year, hoping that I would be able to continue my studies by winning the fellowship.

Gazette:  Why are you excited about History?  Or is this continued education out of necessity because you have to teach it?  

Ms. Sensenig:  It’s a little of both. A friend of mine, Leah Dubber, used to teach in Seldovia. Throughout the years we’ve known each other, we have had an ongoing debate over whether history, her primary subject, or English, my first choice, was the superior subject. She feels that she has won the debate since I am pursuing a degree in history, but I maintain that English skills such as reading, persuasive speaking, and coherent writing are intertwined in the study of history, and it is my appreciation for how language has affected our world that is fueling my enthusiasm for learning history.

Gazette:  When will you begin?  Will you go online or to school for your classes?  This summer?  How long do you have to “use” the fellowship monies?

Ms. Sensenig:  I have five years to complete the degree, and I was able to choose to study at any college that offers a degree in American history. The college I chose, Ashland University, is in Ohio. I chose Ashland because they have a program geared for teachers, so most of the classes can be done in the summer. They require that I do a certain number of classes in person, so I will need to go down to Ohio for several weeks each summer. The rest of the classes I can take online. I also appreciate Ashland’s focus on primary sources. Instead of reading a bunch of textbooks that summarize information, most of the assigned readings are actual letters, speeches, and other writings by the nation’s founders. We are left to draw our own conclusions from reading these documents rather than relying on someone else’s interpretation of history.

In the summer of 2014, I will join the other fellowship recipients in Washington, D.C., where we will spend a month studying “Foundations of American Constitutionalism” at Georgetown University. During the month, we’ll visit local sites and may even get to meet a Supreme Court justice. I haven’t spent much time in the nation’s capitol, so I think I’m looking forward to next summer as much as any part of the program.

Gazette:  Can you tell us a little about the music grant you had received to learn guitar and how that helped you this year?

Ms. Sensenig:  The Rasmuson grant has helped me to gain some basic guitar skills and to increase my appreciation of what my students do in band class. Guitar is not my main instrument, and even after six months of lessons, the students are more skilled than I am. I guess you could say that learning a little on guitar has helped me to stay committed to learning new things, and it has strengthened my enjoyment of different kinds of music.

Gazette:  Final words – anything else you would like to add?

Ms. Sensenig:  Seldovia is such a unique place to live, so it makes sense that the teaching experience here is unique as well. I am just as excited about being here as I was five years ago when I first took the job. Seeing the same kids year after year and teaching new subjects each year does not allow me to fall into a rut. I need to be constantly learning in order to provide quality educational experiences for the students here. It’s part of what I love about this town.


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