CVCC students get ‘hands on’ with history

In school, history is a subject that requires lots of reading.

Realistically, it would be nearly impossible to understand time periods like the renaissance or power struggles like the Cold War without opening a textbook and studying the pages.

But what about taking that book learning to the next level and actually experiencing a piece of history?

One Catawba Valley Community College professor thinks giving his students “hands-on” experience with history will increase their comprehensive understanding of the past.

CVCC social sciences professor Richard Eller has taken numerous students across the nation and globe recently to give them first-hand perspectives of what they study in Catawba County.

Most recently, Eller took 10 students to Europe to visit multiple World War II battlefields, including Bastogne, Normandy and one of Adolf Hitler’s bunkers in Germany.

“It gives them a different perspective on the battle,” Eller said.

“When you can see where these things happen, you get an understanding that expands beyond textbook, video or classroom learning. It gives you a very different perspective to have been there.”

While traveling the World War II battlefields, Eller said the group received a first-hand account of a battle at Bastogne from a guide who lived in the town during the war. Eller’s class also visited the site of the battle of Normandy, as well as where Hitler eventually committed suicide.

The World War II class and trip is part of CVCC’s Hands on History project, a program that gives students the opportunity to travel and visit the historical places and events they learn about. In the program’s history, students have traveled anywhere from Selma, Ala., to Gettysburg, Pa. This is the first time CVCC has offered the World War II class and trip, Eller said.

While classroom learning may be a foundation, Eller said the trips allow students to interact with history.

“The students not only get a feeling for it in the classroom, but also get to go to the landscape,” Eller said.

Because the overseas trips can be expensive, Eller said CVCC tries to make the hands-on projects affordable for students.

“We’ve tried to make finance not an issue,” Eller said. “If students who want to go can’t because of the financial side, we make it so they can.”

By CVCC picking up some of the check, students only have to pay for portions of the bill. Eller said the opportunity to study abroad has been embraced by the students.

“They were pretty blown away by the opportunity to go,” Eller said. “It was broadening for them going to a land where they didn’t speak the language. Also, in terms of the aspects of second World War, they are just now coming along when most of the guys who fought in it are dying off.”

For more information about CVCC or its programs, visit