Winding Paths: Alumni return to teach at CSU after careers in public history

Michael Childers and Adam Thomas, faculty in the CSU Department of History
Assistant Professor Michael Childers and Assistant Professor Adam Thomas were both CSU alumni who have returned to teach in the Department of History.

What do you do with a passion for history? There is no one clear cut answer to this question because the possibilities are endless. While some people become historians, others go to law school, some work in museums, and some take a more circuitous route.  Michael Childers and Adam Thomas, history professors at Colorado State University, chose adventure.  Both professors embarked on paths brimming with the twists and turns, leaving them with life experiences that deepened their passion for teaching history today.

An undeniable aptitude

Even as a child, Adam Thomas was fascinated by architectural history. He would spend hours upon hours analyzing, envisioning, and then sketching the transformation of buildings from their

current states to how he imagined they would age over time. Thomas’ passion for material culture continued to flourish with time, education, and knowledge of the subject.

Although he decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University, Thomas’ interest in history grew during his undergraduate years. He decided to pursue his master’s degree in historic preservation at CSU.

Thomas was certain he wanted to return to CSU to teach history at some point, but after graduating he channeled his talents toward opening Historitecture, a historic preservation consulting firm. This company combined Thomas’ love for history and material culture, allowing him to study, represent, and preserve historical architecture throughout Colorado.

Thomas giving architectural tours around the CSU campus.

“We live in a world where your head is always down,” said Thomas. “I love architectural history because it forces your head up and your world all of a sudden gets a whole lot bigger.”

Even though Thomas had an aptitude for consulting, ultimately, he felt unfulfilled in this line of work. He resolved to return to his calling – teaching the subject he loved most. “I always felt as if I had a lot to share,” said Thomas. “I was learning a lot of lessons and I wanted to be able to communicate those lessons to others.”

Upon his decision to pursue teaching, Thomas earned his PhD in history from Johns Hopkins University so that he could return to CSU and share his passion.

Living and breathing history

Just like Thomas, Michael Childers developed a knack for history at a very young age. Growing up in the Fraser Valley, Childers observed firsthand the transformation of the once rural community into a prosperous ski town. This prompted his interest in the growth of tourism in the West, specifically the ski industry, and the environmental consequences associated with this development.

Curiosity for historical change fueled Childers’ decision to pursue his bachelor’s degree in history at Western State College, followed by a master’s degree in European history at CSU. After graduating from Colorado State, Childers realized that while he was passionate about the subject, he did not know how he wanted to apply it.

Childers returned home and explored his outdoor interests, working as a freelance journalist and writing a guidebook. Throughout this period of exploration, Childers honed in on an enthusiasm for recreation and the outdoors but knew something was missing. “I realized I still had a passion for history,” said Childers.  Upon this realization, Childers returned to CSU to seek advice from his former advisor who encouraged him to combine his passions for history, tourism, and the environment and incorporate them into a teaching career. Childers received his PhD in history from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Returning to their alma mater

Sharing a lifelong inclination for history and a love for CSU have been the driving forces behind Thomas and Childers’ return to their alma mater. According to Childers, in terms of his specialty of environmental sustainability, “CSU is the platinum standard, not just the gold standard. ”

For Thomas, the decision to return was never really a decision at all, but rather his intent from the very start. “I loved this university and this program; it was like nothing else I’d ever experienced,” said Thomas. “I knew I wanted to be back here teaching it. I knew I wanted to take what I was learning out there and come back to CSU and make that happen.”

By pursuing their passions in history, the paths of these alumni converged back at CSU. They are now in positions to share their knowledge, experience, and passion for history with a new generation of CSU Rams.