October 18, 2021

Specialist in Western history completes year at Eastern

Steeped in United States history with coal mines, railroads, ghost towns and immigration, Carbon County has much to offer those who are passionate about history. Nichelle Frank, assistant professor of U.S. history at Utah State University Eastern, specializes in the history of the U.S. West and specifically studies mining towns. When the opportunity to teach at Eastern became available, she was excited to live in a place that so closely aligned with her area of study.

Frank grew up in Colorado and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University. At the beginning of her academic career, she was unsure what she wanted to study. She was in an honors program that required her to quickly decide on a major, so she poured over course catalogues and found that history classes were most interesting to her. “It was hard to decide. I decided to minor in English and I’m glad I got that perspective as well,” she said.

She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in 2020. One of her proudest moments was related to her Ph.D., but not the degree itself. She always thought she was going to stay in Colorado, so deciding to move to Oregon with no connections was terrifying. 

“It was an opportunity to learn about myself, to learn to be confident and advocate for myself. I was always, always very shy and being on my own forced me to be more comfortable,” she said. She found there was much to love about Oregon: the climate, forests, mountains and the interesting mix of people that were welcoming.

Frank moved to Price in August 2020. This is her first year of teaching and beginning her teaching career during COVID-19 brought many challenges. “It’s been interesting, but not as bad as I thought. It’s a lot harder on the students who have less opportunity to participate,” she said. 

She teaches her classes over Zoom and tries to engage her students in new ways. Students are often required to visit a website or listen to music during class. Frank enjoys using the Disney musical Hamilton during her classes about early U.S. history as an introduction to the topic. While it is historical fiction, there is a lot of accurate information. Hamilton presents historical characters, specifically Thomas Jefferson and King George III, in a new and lively way. She wants to give students the best experience she can. She is always thinking about her lessons and life on campus and remotely from the students’ perspectives. 

Students come to college with a vague background in U.S. history, and often find they like college history classes as they come to life in a new way. Frank advises students to think of history simply as a story, and to not keep track of every minute detail. 

“Thinking of history as a story is helpful for many people. There are lessons and morals, though I don’t tell the students what the morals are. I let them figure it out for themselves,” she said. 

Frank’s favorite history class was a historical preservation class she attended during her master’s degree program. It opened her eyes to the world of public history and historical preservation. Attending this class were architects learning how to renovate historical buildings with care and attention to historical detail. This class caused a chain reaction within her and fueled her curiosity and passion for architectural and hands-on history.

The city of Helper, Utah, was unknown to Frank until she passed through while moving to Price. She is fascinated with the historical buildings and their recent renovations. 

“Helper’s an interesting area. Really cool history is taking place there right now which speaks to a lot of larger issues,” she said. After living in Carbon County, she is interested in conducting a comparative research project on coal and hard rock mining.

She is working on turning her dissertation into a book about mining towns in Montana, Arizona and Colorado. It is about historical preservation, the landscapes, environmental impact of mines and how these communities work to preserve both their history and the environment.

Between her doctorate program, COVID-19, moving to Price and her first year of teaching, Frank had little opportunity to get out and explore the area. She loves hiking and being outside and is looking forward to exploring Utah’s outdoor scene this summer. She loves spending time with her family and reading mystery and thriller novels when she can find good ones.

One of Frank’s favorite historical figures is Ida B. Wells. She was a Black female journalist at a time when there were few Black journalists, and even fewer female journalists. Wells used her position to bring awareness to the mistreatment of Black people. Her writing contained messages that even though the Civil War and slavery were over, living conditions for Black people are still terrible.  

Frank also loves actress Katharine Hepburn because of the way she challenged gender norms in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Frank is inspired for future projects and is interested in researching asbestos mining and why it was so popular. She also wants to research superfund sites, which are polluted locations in the U.S. that still require intensive cleanup of hazardous materials. Since these sites date back to the 1970s and ‘80s, the history is recent and exciting, which poses its own set of difficulties.

After COVID-19 restrictions ease up, Frank is looking forward to connecting with the community. “There is a great community with an intriguing atmosphere here. I am looking forward to connecting with everyone more,” she said.

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