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History Professor Unknowingly Made History

At 27, Mary Wilgus was married with children when she started college in the early 1970s. In fact, she was at MTSU when the Honors Program was first created 50 years ago. The
History professor made her own mark in history when she completed the University’s first Honors thesis in 1973.

“I didn’t even know I was the first,” she said with a laugh. She was one of 129 students who chose to take honors class the first semester.

Formerly Mary Hargan, she married military and commercial pilot James Wilgus in 1962.

“I had always wanted to go to college. Once all the kids were in school, I decided to give it a try,” she said. She recalled sitting at a counter in her kitchen doing her homework next to her children doing their own. “I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, and I think we helped challenge each other.”

Wilgus had already begun her studies at the University when Dr. Fred Colvin, a history professor, asked if she would be interested in the Honors Program. She completed a double major, earning a bachelor’s in history and a bachelor’s in international relations, with a minor in German, in 1974.

While working as a history teaching assistant at MTSU, she continued her education, earning a master’s in European History from MTSU in 1976. From 1977 to 1985, she worked as a history teaching fellow and teaching assistant at Vanderbilt University. She completed her education by earning her Doctor of Philosophy in History on scholarship at Vanderbilt. She studied British imperial history, modern England and East Asia. While completing her doctoral degree, she worked at MTSU for two years as an adjunct instructor teaching history.

“I am very proud to be a part of history,” the honors alum concluded. “I enjoyed every minute of my education, except for finals!”

A thesis is required of every student who graduates from the University Honors College. The purpose is to prepare the student for graduate or professional school, to provide an opportunity for the student to complete a scholarly or creative project of significant proportions and to gain a new perspective on knowledge by becoming a contributor to the recognized knowledge in a particular field of study. This experience provides invaluable preparation and a competitive edge to students applying to graduate or professional schools. 

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