Jacob Hensh (Class of 2016)

  • photo of Jacob Henshsenior double major in Political Science and Russian, East-European, & Eurasian Studies (REEES)
  • student in Combined Bachelors-Masters Program for Political Science
  • from Pittsburgh, PA
  • 3-year Junior Fellow at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies
  • Research Apprentice for Dr. Zara Torlone at the Humanities Center (2015-2016)
  • studied in Estonia and Russia to immerse himself in Russian language and culture
The most important thing to remember for students who are trying to find themselves in their studies at Miami is that everything you need for an incredible and fulfilling life here is right at your fingertips. Use your resources — your professors, your friends, the library. Work hard, focus, and assuredly you will see nothing but success.

Why Miami?

"First and foremost, track ruled my high school life. It still does, as I'm a pole-vaulter here at Miami. I was recruited to come here, and the day I arrived, my mom and I loved the campus immediately.

"I always knew I wanted to study political science — as far back as kindergarten I was told I should be a politician! However, my REEES major came about in my first advising meeting with Dr. Melanie Ziegler, who told me that if you want to major in poli-sci, then you should take a specialty, study a language, and taper your classes towards political science and that language's particular country or region.

"Everything about my two majors went hand-in-hand, as I've been able to take a lot of classes for both. I studied Russian and did a study abroad program last summer in Russia, where I got to speak the language every day.

"What's really cool is that I can say I've almost become a specialist in this field, thanks to so many phenomenal Miami professors I've had. I was always told when I was younger that I wouldn't get the same type of caring in college that I had in high school, but I haven't gotten that feeling at Miami.

"In fact, I actually feel more cared about and looked after here. Whenever you have a professor who can directly tell you, 'This works, or this doesn't work, so do this and get better to succeed,' it's all positive criticism. If I didn't have all that, I know I wouldn't be the person I am today."

Best Miami Experiences

"I'm a Junior Fellow at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies. One day during the first semester of my sophomore year, I walked into the Center's office in Harrison [Hall], and they just bombarded me with all sorts of information. They told me, 'By the way, you should probably do a double major!'

enlarged photo of Jacob Hensh in St. Petersburg"Once I got it all organized, I realized that many of the classes I'd taken so far were already counting for my Russian and Political Science majors. I decided that since I was taking a language already, I might as well major in it. Having the right GPA, I found that Russian really opened a lot of doors for me.

"The classes I've taken for my two majors are what prompted and enabled me to go abroad twice as a Miami student: once to Estonia during Winter Term 2015, and then to Russia this past summer [2015].

"I'm also currently a research apprentice for Zara Torlone in the Department of Classics and the Humanities Center. The project consists of accumulating sources on the topic Russia's Italy, which entails finding nearly every work written by famous Russian authors while they were living in Italy as well as Italian authors living in Russia. I'm in the process of finding these sources, citing them, and creating a detailed annotated bibliography describing their relevance to the topic.

"The most interesting part, however, is the translation portion of the project — I’m locating and translating various letters from Fyodor Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol, all concerning their opinion of Italy and how it makes them feel. It is tremendous practice and thus far has been extremely fulfilling."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"Interpersonal skills are something that I've really been able to gain from being a double major in the liberal arts. This involves just being able to sit there and talk to someone about different topics and applying a strong level of critical thinking to everything I hear and learn. All my Miami classes have helped me develop this skill.

"Every Miami student in liberal arts should enroll in Introduction to Linguistics with Dr. John Jeep. It was one of the most fulfilling and life-affirming courses that I have taken outside of my major. He is truly an incredible teacher and person."

Politics and Language Immersion in Estonia and Russia

enlarged photo of Jacob Hensh in Moscow"In January 2015 I organized a student trip to Estonia for a couple weeks. This was really my first intensive language study, and I thought it would be a good introduction to Russia — in Estonia they speak Estonian, Russian, and English. If I had to resort back to English, I could. Sometimes people didn't even speak Russian, so I had to go and seek out the Russian-speaking communities. It was a good dip into the language and culture.

"I enjoyed my Estonia trip so much that I was eager to take my studies further, so I left for Moscow in June 2015 for about two months. The program was through the Higher School of Economics, which is mainly headquartered in St. Petersburg (though they have an outstanding Moscow campus as well). Being in Russia was actually the real test of how much I'd learned up to that point, as well as how much I could learn and assimilate. I was focused on Russian almost exclusively, as were other Miami students, and it was perfectly relevant to my studies. If you want to really learn Russian, you simply have to go to Russia!

"We were exhausted after losing an entire day on the plane, but as soon as we first arrived at our dorm they immediately began speaking to us in Russian. We were all doing our best to listen and understand, despite having had very little sleep. However, you really know you're getting good at a language when you read it and don't even pay attention to whether it's Russian or English!

"We had two classes a day on language and politics, all conducted in Russian. It was sometimes a bit rough, especially when they rotated various kinds of language classes, which were all focused on the different components of the language we needed to know. This went on for about 8 weeks, all while we lived in the dorm on the Higher School of Economics' campus.

"Moscow is just incredible. It's huge and amazing, and you can really see why Russians have so much pride. The people were really great, though they would let you know when you messed up their language and could identify you as an American instantly!

"During that summer trip our group also had an opportunity to visit St. Petersburg and see Peterhof Palace, which was designed by Italian and French architects for Peter the Great. It's become a huge tourist attraction and features a number of marvelous fountains and huge monuments. Although it was nearly destroyed in WWII, it's been restored in almost its entirety, and now it's a really fun experience."

Advice to Students

"Students who are thinking of going into political science should make sure that they really like working with people — that's one of the huge differences between going the history route or the poli-sci route! Don't be afraid to get out there and speak to people. Miami has so much to offer for people in any of its liberal arts majors, so just be sure to take advantage of every opportunity.

"My study abroad experiences have not just developed my language skills but also have helped me grow as a person. I would encourage anyone to study abroad; when you're in a foreign county you come to realize your real strengths. Not only are you dealing with school obligations, but you're also working on social and cultural issues in another country and language. I can definitely say I've come back as a calmer, more confident person.

"The most important thing to remember for students who are trying to find themselves in their studies at Miami is that everything you need for an incredible and fulfilling life here is right at your fingertips. Use your resources — your professors, your friends, the library. Work hard, focus, and assuredly you will see nothing but success."

[February 2016]