Dr. David Ulbrich graduated from Ball State University with his M.A. in History in 1996. He then returned to teach at Ball State from 2004 until 2008. He is author of the award-winning book Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936-1943. He is also co-author or co-editor of Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century, of Race and Gender in Modern Western Warfare, of Routledge History of Global War and Society, and in May 2021 of World War II: A Global History. Ulbrich is currently an Associate Professor and Director of the online M.A. in History and Military History Programs at Norwich University.
What did you study while you were at Ball State?
Military and diplomatic history specialists Dr. Phyllis Zimmerman and Dr. Kevin Smith attracted me to Ball State’s M.A. program in History in 1993. When Dr. Zimmerman became my advisor later than year, she suggested that my thesis should study Marine Corps history. She wrote a letter of recommendation that garnered a $2,500 grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. This funding allowed me to spend three weeks doing archival research in Washington, D.C., that supported my M.A. thesis.
What is your career now?
I currently direct the online M.A. in History and Military Programs at Norwich University in Vermont. This role was not what I envisioned in the 1990s when I was a student at Ball State, nor when I returned in the 2000s to teach in face-to-face classrooms at Ball State. Even so, the role of program director has been rewarding. I interact with dozens of adjunct history instructors and hundreds of graduate students every year. Many of my students at Norwich are veterans or retired military or their family members.
This makes work as director gratifying because Norwich’s degrees help them advance in their military careers or make transitions to civilian employment. This is a service to those men and women who have freely volunteered to serve in uniform.
What does a typical week in your position look like?
The early part of my week is spent reviewing the previous week’s participation reports and instructor performances to identify and solve any problems in the short term. The latter part of each week includes meetings with my subordinates and other units and departments at Norwich University. I also carve time to do some research and writing of military history each week.
What are the most valuable skills you learned in your major?
I learned determination and clear writing from my advisor Dr. Phyllis Zimmerman. I developed analytical skills in courses with Dr. Kevin Smith, Dr. Abel Alves, and Dr. Lawrence Birken. I learned about the history profession while working as a research assistant for Dr. Glenda Riley. I also gained a love for teaching all the faculty in Ball State’s History Department.
How are the skills you learned as a History student relevant to your career and life today?
The written and oral communication skills are essential to success. I developed several new courses in Public History and in Legal and Constitutional History that required clear and concise writing. The analytical skills have also been critical to my work. Historians are taught to look at multiple factors that form causes and consequences of events. Those skills have helped me look for trends in the past, and then lay out goals for the future or solve current problems.
What is your advice to other History students?
Take courses from the most demanding and most expert instructors. Hopefully, they will also be gifted lecturers with effective pedagogies. Even so, those demanding instructors bring incredible knowledge to their teaching, and they challenge their students. Also, History students should reach outside the discipline and develop interests that can be tied to studying the past. If a student is interested in Tudor-Stuart England, then that student should take courses on Shakespeare to supplement the History coursework. If the student likes working with computer technology, then maybe combine some cybersecurity courses with History coursework. Lastly, History students should get to know their instructors and form life-long connections. I still maintain contact with several instructors at Ball State, even though it is now 25 years since my graduation with my M.A. degree.