The Learning Edge
Jesse Millek ’07: Living and Loving Ancient History
- August 29, 2019
- Posted by: Clonlara School
- Category: Alumni Spotlight
By Clonlara School
Jesse Millek, Ph.D., has always been fascinated by ancient history and archaeology. This fascination was fueled during high school, when Clonlara School’s Home-Based Education Program (now the Off-Campus Program) enabled him to immerse himself in these topics. Today, Jesse is a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, having been awarded a three-year research fellowship by the German Research Foundation, focusing on Near Eastern archaeology. Under the fellowship, begun in 2018, Jesse is researching the destruction of cities and towns in the Eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BC.
Jesse explains: “My interests are researching destruction and collapse in the ancient world, how these events affected the people at the time, and what we in the modern day can learn from them as we face similar situations such as climate change, warfare, or natural disasters.” He had discovered a “huge hole” in the understanding of what really caused the demise of ancient cities and towns, versus what had been assumed and portrayed by historians, and made that the focus of his research efforts.
Following graduation from Clonlara in 2007, Jesse pursued his passion through his undergraduate and graduate studies, earning a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and art history at SUNY Potsdam, a master’s in Near Eastern archaeology at Leiden University (Netherlands), and a doctorate in Near Eastern archaeology at University of Tubingen (Germany). Jesse’s work has been published in several journals, and he has presented his research at conferences throughout the United States and Europe. His dissertation will be published as a book late this year or early in 2020.
Jesse grew up in West Berlin, New Jersey. His four older brothers all graduated from the Clonlara, and when his oldest brother was approaching high school, his mother was impressed that Clonlara students could earn a diploma through the homeschool program, a rarity at the time.
Clonlara’s philosophy and program were ideal for Jesse. “The thing I enjoyed most was being able to tailor my educational experience to my interests,” Jesse comments. “I could pursue what I enjoyed learning about.” Under the broad umbrella of ancient history, he could focus and dig into areas where he was most interested, such as Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, and Egyptian culture and history.
In addition, beyond his primary area of study, Clonlara provided Jesse the opportunity to pursue activities he really enjoyed as part of his education, for instance, studying Japanese, cooking, and hiking.
Clonlara was instrumental in preparing Jesse for his future studies and research. Two factors, in particular, stand out in this regard. One is the research process, centered on what you enjoy learning about. “In the Clonlara program, I learned how to search out research topics that I found interesting and how to research them through. This is the same exact way that I approach my work now. I can find a subject that I find interesting, build a research plan around that, and go forward and actually do the research.”
The second is the self reliance that comes with doing this type of schooling, where in many ways you are responsible for your own learning. “This was a great asset for me upon entering into college, as I already knew how to schedule myself and create a plan for my course work, having done this for four years prior.” In contrast, many of his college peers lacked this experience and know how.
For Jesse, knowing what he wanted to do early on was an advantage. “When I was in high school going through Clonlara, I knew that I wanted to go into archaeology. So, I did the same thing I did in school. I researched what the job market would be like, how much education I needed, and I contacted several archaeologists to ask them how to pursue this career.” He learned that to be the archaeologist he wanted to be, he would need a doctoral degree, which meant about 10 years of higher education. On top of that, a job would be hard to come by. “Because I knew all of this before I even started on my bachelor’s, I knew what to expect; I knew the path ahead of me and how to get there, more or less. There was a lot of hard work, but having that knowledge helped me to stay the course and pursue what I love to do.”
Does your student have a passion for a particular subject like Jesse? Please share how they are tailoring their learning experience to their interests.