Rising from public assistance, 15 years of menial jobs and a GED, Michael Hattem seized on Borough of Manhattan Community College and then the CUNY Baccalaureate, CUNY’s individualized degree, to vault toward academic achievement, which will culminate in a Yale University doctoral program starting in fall 2011.
Always a voracious reader and learner, Hattem says his life “has been devoted to self-education.” He earned his high school diploma independently, by examination only. He taught himself Greek philosophy and tragedy, Marxist theory and history, six instruments and audio engineering to record his own albums. As a teenager, he taught himself to read Hebrew and last year began studying ancient Greek, so that one day he might read Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato and Homer in the original.
Long before starting at BMCC in 2007, he was already poring over graduate-level history texts. Taking advantage of the CUNY Baccalaureate’s flexibility, Hattem attended six CUNY colleges plus the CUNY Graduate Center to fashion a unique degree in the history of colonial and revolutionary America, including the “those strands of thought which helped shape it” – Enlightenment philosophy, English constitutional and radical history, and classical political philosophy and history. The CUNY BA “allows me to take advantage of the courses I need that are spread throughout CUNY and, more importantly, to develop rewarding and enriching relationships with the best professors in my field that CUNY has to offer.”
Hattem served as a research assistant to his mentor, Brooklyn College Distinguished Professor Edwin G. Burrows, and to history professors Darren Staloff (of City College and the Graduate Center) and Carol Berkin (of Baruch College and the Graduate Center).
His junior honors research paper, “‘As Serves our Interest best:’ A Reinterpretation of the Popular Political Response in New York City to the Imperial Crisis, 1765-1776,” was one of only four published in the Columbia Undergraduate Journal of History, fall 2010 issue (Vol. 3, no. 2), from some 50 submitted by professors nationwide; see http://cujh.columbia.edu. In his last semester, he completed an independent study with his mentor, reading recent social interpretations of the American Revolution and writing three lengthy book reviews, each addressing multiple works. This independent study was, he says, one of the most valuable courses he took during his undergraduate years.
The CUNY BA program awarded Hattem a Thomas W. Smith Fellowship, which he called “instrumental in not only helping me finish my degree, but also in the level of work I've been able to achieve.” He also received two CCNY History Department prizes for different essays, the Oscar Lloyd Meyerson Medal and the Sidney J. Pomerantz Prize, and was elected to Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges.
In his last two semesters, he served as a student mentor in the CCNY History Department’s mentoring program, advising fellow majors about the graduate application process.
Hattem’s long-term goal? A university-level teaching job where he could pass along his deep appreciation and affection for historical inquiry, particularly to those who may have no predisposition to study history.
Yale’s doctoral program in history, one of the most competitive in the country, includes a five-year tuition-free fellowship plus a $26,500-a-year stipend for living expenses and full health-care coverage for him, his wife, and their children.
”I find myself skipping down the street sometimes,” Hattem says. “Life doesn’t get much better than this.”