The students trickled in slowly. First one, then two or three more. 

“Good afternoon professor,” offered a particularly upbeat student before he took his seat.

The pattern continued, and within 15 minutes, the class is filled with more than 20 young learners dressed in everything from faded sweatpants and tattered shorts, to torn jeans and four-day-old t-shirts.

Ah, college kids.

Sitting in well-used wooden armchair-style desks, they spaced themselves throughout the cramped 1970’s vintage classroom at San Diego State University ready to soak it all in.

“OK, let’s get started,” said Karl Zingheim, the USS Midway Museum’s historian and adjunct faculty in SDSU’s history department. “Today we’re going to focus on an emotionally difficult subject, the Holocaust.”

The eyes of the students understandably widened.

Midway prides itself on the quality of its education program. From onboard field trips, classroom and distance learning programs, to overnight sleepovers, the museum has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and their families over nearly two decades.

In the last several years, however, Midway has expanded its educational outreach to San Diego State University. In 2019, the USS Midway Foundation made a $3 million pledge to create an endowed chair in modern U.S. military history at SDSU. The chair currently sits in the university’s history department.

“This partnership marks another proud and historic chapter for our university as a military partner,” said SDSU’s president, Adela de la Torre, at the time of the announcement. “With the USS Midway Foundation’s generous endowment gift, we will be able to amplify the impact of our military education program and research efforts – but also our capacity to educate our broad student population on military history.”

It was also in 2019 that Karl launched his first class, and over the past five years has averaged nearly 30 students per class each semester. His current course listed in SDSU’s registration guide is HIST 486 – History of World War II.

“I hope to confer a sense of the military scope of this vast conflict and the consequences that stemmed from decisions of political and military leaders of the main combatant nations,” said Karl, who joined the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Association as a volunteer before Midway actually arrived in San Diego. “Another useful takeaway is that although World War II is nearly a century past, it still has ramifications for the 21st century. Additionally, many of the students across the semesters comment upon family connections with that conflict, demonstrating that it is not so remote after all.”

Karl primarily uses a lecture format coupled with a PowerPoint presentation during each class. Along with the requirement for each student to research and compose three essays on military science of the 1930s and 1940s, other graded elements are the essay-format midterm and final exams. His grading is intended to reflect on the assessment of comprehension and grasp of the course material.

The classroom, Karl happily admits, is a place where he thrives.

“I feel I live for the classroom environment and thoroughly enjoy interacting with young adults,” said Karl, a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. “The assessment and advice I confer to my students on the directed essay assignments is particularly gratifying since these are skills that will be beneficial not only for the rest of their undergraduate careers, but also in whatever professions life will take them.”

“I elected to take Karl’s class because I’ve always been fascinated by World War II as a turning point in so many facets of world history,” said Nate Polite, a 20-year-old junior from San Diego who is majoring in both journalism and media studies. “What I enjoy most is the sheer depth of content and knowledge that Karl shares. It’s always pleasant when a professor is truly passionate about what they teach. It’s no overstatement to say that this is one of my favorite classes that I’ve taken in college. The amount of knowledge that I have gained this semester is absolutely astounding, and more than I could’ve expected.”

Karl appreciates the dualistic approach the museum and the Midway Foundation have taken with SDSU at the graduate level with the sponsored history chair, as well as at the undergraduate stage.

“I think it has been beneficial for both institutions and is an inspired approach for the museum in translating its own success into a valued community asset,” said Karl, who has been Midway’s historian since it opened in 2004. “The Midway-sponsored history chair is a benefit for professionals early in their careers, while the academic and research proficiency training conferred in the undergraduate course are already attaining results.”

While the broad partnership between Midway and SDSU is mutually beneficial for both institutions, for Karl, it’s his teaching and helping mold young minds in preparation for their futures that is most gratifying.

“The nature of the work at SDSU is especially satisfying for me as I have an unparalleled opportunity to apply the instructional training I received in the Navy and from a lifetime of military history study,” said Karl. “I’m thrilled to be able to improve the prospects of coming generations of young adults who are embarking on their own careers.”

“Saying I enjoy the summaries of the major events of World War II does not do Professor Karl’s class justice,” said Troy Hopkins, a 30-year-old history major from Toledo, Ohio who is a junior at SDSU. “Professor Karl does a brilliant job explaining the course of events for every major theater and campaign. He has such a deep knowledge of that period that he is able to answer even my most tangential questions. His lectures are some of the most informative that I have experienced.”

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