September 23, 2018  

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Southern Miss History Licensure Program Earns National Recognition

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Each day in high schools and middle schools throughout Mississippi, students are asked to research, investigate and learn about numerous historical and civic topics. From geography, government, economics, to state, national and world history, students face a mountain of social studies content to master in grades six through 12. Luckily, many of these classes are led by teachers trained in a program nationally recognized for its excellence in preparing social studies educators.

The Department of History at The University of Southern Mississippi was recently awarded National Recognition without Conditions by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). The organization is devoted to the support of social studies teachers and the programs that teach them how to teach. The standards the NCSS created are used to monitor and measure the effectiveness of all social studies teacher preparation programs in the country, and those standards help determine how best to design teacher education programs.

Southern Miss professor Dr. Jill Abney, licensure coordinator in the Department of History, said having a social studies licensure program with a status of “national recognition” is good for the University because it means the program is in good company and ranks with other exceptional licensure programs in the nation.

“It means that our History with Social Studies Licensure graduates receive quality training and preparation. Large numbers of our program graduates become social studies teachers in our community, state and region,” Abney said.
“NCSS national recognition for our program means that we are effectively educating new teachers. And what is most exciting to me is that it is validation for our unique, research-based way of doing secondary teacher education. Southern Miss is one of only four institutions of higher learning (and the only large state university) in Mississippi where secondary teacher training is housed in the content discipline.”

At Southern Miss, students can major in history while also earning a license to teach. Offering the major in this way demonstrates a commitment to extensive study in the content, while also allowing flexibility in how students can use their degree after graduation. For instance, students unsure about whether they want to teach or go to law school after graduation can get a bachelor of arts in history with licensure and do either. Also, as evidence of the program’s content rigor, licensure students are required to take more history content credit hours than students at other state university social studies undergraduate licensure programs.
As a result, Abney explained, “our licensure graduates receive the perfect balance of instruction in both content and teaching methods.” Unlike alternative certification programs that require the pursuit of additional degrees for certification and offer limited mentorship in student-teaching, USM’s program offers “more supervised contact hours with students in grades 6-12 before they enter the classroom by themselves. Our students graduate with their certification, ready to hit the job market as fully licensed teachers, with the confidence and knowledge to be successful.”
The status of national recognition is great news for the community as well, in a state where teacher shortages are common. The recognition of the licensure program is also good for local schools, local school children and for soon-to-be college students in the region who want to become social studies teachers. “Southern Miss is a great place to learn to be a middle school or high school social studies teacher, and this stamp of approval is evidence of that,” Abney said.

Chair of the history department Dr. Kyle Zelner praised the dedication and hard work of Abney and other faculty members in the department for their efforts, which made the NCSS’s “National Recognition” distinction possible.

“We have a remarkable group of professors in the Department of History who make it a priority to expertly train the next generation of social studies teachers for the state and the region," Dr. Zelner said. "Dr. Abney, who only joined the faculty in 2016, has already made striking enhancements to our licensure program and labors diligently every day to improve the learning experiences of our licensure students. She travels all over the state to offer feedback to our undergraduates who are student teaching in the region’s junior and high schools, to help them improve as teachers.”

Zelner also applauded the countless classroom social studies teachers and administrators across the state who work with Southern Miss’s student teachers to give them hands-on training as educators. “This distinction would not be possible without their support,” he said.                  

For more information about the history licensure program at Southern Miss, visit