Nate Probasco came to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a scholarship to play football and run track. About 10 years and a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate later, he’s hoping to become a history professor.
Probasco, a doctoral student, found a passion for studying early modern European history while taking “HIST 231: History of England to 1688” with professor Carol Levin as an undergraduate.
“It was a really interesting class,” Probasco said. “I think (Levin) did a great job with the material and made it an exciting class because a lot of times history can be seen as boring.”
Probasco played football his first year of college, but decided to pursue track during the rest of his undergraduate years.
“It suited my talents better,” Probasco said. “In high school I was recruited more to do track than I was to do football.”
Levin still remembers Probasco running into class at the last minute and sitting in the back row with his track gear. That impression was formed in unison with superb academic performance.
“His work was remarkable,” Levin said. “It was like ‘Whoa. This is one good student.’”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history, Probasco decided to pursue his master’s because he was still eligible to run track for one more year.
“Also, I really enjoyed the classes and decided it would be worthwhile,” he said. “I want to be a professor and I thought that was a step in the right direction. (It) worked out pretty well.”
Probasco’s motivations were interpersonal as well: he wanted to further his education by being able to work closer with Levin.
“She really goes out of her way to try and help her students and that’s one thing that I want to do in my career as well,” he said.
Probasco continued studying at UNL for his doctorate because he received the Othmer Fellowship through the history department. Levin said she was thrilled when she learned he would stay in Lincoln.
Throughout graduate school, he was a teaching assistant and guest-taught a couple of lectures for the history class he started in.
“Working with him as my TA was just a joy,” Levin said. “He cares so much about the students.”
Things came full ciricle when Probasco eventually taught the class himself one semester.
“Once you have the ability to teach the class on your own, you can cover (the topics you wished) the professor would’ve elaborated on,” he said. “It might be something that interested you or it might be something that was an important even in history or something you might think will get the students interested.”
Being the primary instructor was a new and enlightening experience, Probasco said. For one, he said he felt new demands to keep up with recent books on teaching and history.
“It’s a lot of things you have to do, but if you can do it, I think you’ll be successful as a professor,” Probasco said.
Levin said she’s enjoyed watching Probasco’s transformation from student to teacher through the years.
“It’s been thrilling because he was always a fine student,” she said. “It gives me incredible pride and joy. I think one of the greatest things in teaching is to see a success story like this.”
A significant part of Probasco’s role as a graduate student has been independent research. He’s published work in journals and books, as well as presented his studies at conferences. It’s part of the job, but no small task, Probasco said.
“It’s definitely not easy for a grad student to get published, because you’re competing against established professors or anyone else who might be a professional in the world,” he said.
Levin said pursuing a degree in history is difficult and requires a lot of passion and dedication.
“It’s kind of exciting and I think it’s something they have to completely love more than anything else,” Levin said.
Throughout his time in grad school, Probasco has gotten married and now has two kids. Between research and attending conferences, Probasco said it has been a challenge to juggle his research and family at the same time.
“Now that I’m done I can look back on it and realize that it made me a better person having kids while doing work at the same time,” Probasco said.
That juggling act came to a head earlier this month when, as one of the culminating moments of his doctoral work, Probasco presented his dissertation on Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s last voyage.
“It was one of the best dissertations I had ever seen,” Levin said. “He’s a pretty amazing scholar. It’s pretty amazing when you train someone who looks like they’re going to do even better than you are.”
After graduating in May, Probasco hopes to become a history professor somewhere in the Midwest to stay close to friends and family. He also hopes to make his dissertation into a book to help other researchers.
“My hope is that my work is getting out there and that my work is helping other scholars build upon it,” Probasco said.
on twitter @dnartsdesk