Looking for a link

DeWayne Bartels

Reading old newspapers  would not be most people’s idea of fun, but for Eureka College student Laura Punke it is nirvana.

Punke of Eureka is performing an internship at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in  Springfield, through a fellowship that she earned at Eureka College.

Punke is a senior history major. She is interning with Illinois State Historian Dr. Thomas Schwartz. Her internship involves researching connections between Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan in preparation for the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth in 2011. She also is compiling a list of Illinois town historians.

“My freshman year at Eureka I was encouraged by some faculty and staff to apply for the Sandifer Fellowship so I started volunteering places and documenting my hours of service as well as my leadership roles like teaching dance, serving as the assistant director of a dance company, working as an assistant teacher at the Sun Foundation,” Punke said.

“After I submitted my application for consideration I was selected my sophomore year as a Sandifer Fellow based on my service, leadership and academic achievement.”

Sandifer Fellows receive a mentorship opportunity anywhere in the world.

“(That) is really cool because a mentorship is usually a little more in-depth than an internship. You’re supposed to be able to work a little more closely with the ‘mentor.’ I chose the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum because it related to my history major and because I needed to stick fairly close to home for the summer. I’ve had a lot of school and work-related commitments throughout the summer,” she said.

Punke is among 13 students in the senior class who earned Durward V. Sandifer Fellowships for exemplary students.

Students earn the fellowship by completing their first four semesters with a minimum 3.5 grade-point average, a record of community service and demonstrated leadership on Eureka’s campus.

Punke is the daughter of Darrel and Christine Punke of Eureka. She is a 2006 graduate of Christian Liberty Academy, Arlington Heights.

“I’m collecting articles that deal with Lincoln from the various towns that Reagan has lived in. My mentor and I are hoping to find enough of these articles to possibly draw a connection between Lincoln and Reagan, maybe something about Lincoln’s life or character that Reagan might have been inspired by,” she said.

Punke said this effort is pretty important because she hopes it will be used in Reagan’s birthday celebration.  

“I have to admit that I’ve always been a Reagan fan, even before starting at Eureka College, so I think it’s wonderful that we continue to celebrate his life, and Lincoln is certainly a great figure to compare him to,” she said.  

“I think the whole project will be a nice way of honoring Reagan.”

At this point, however, Punke said, she is not sure how much of a connection there is between their lives or their presidencies.  

“I think the connection might lie in their personalities. They were both charismatic leaders who had a very down-to-earth way of communicating with people,” she said.  

“They both had a great sense of humor and an ability to reach people. Maybe Reagan saw those traits in Lincoln and aspired to be that kind of person. This would be an important connection because it could teach us what it takes to be an effective communicator and the power that lies in this ability. Lincoln and Reagan have both become immortalized in American history. Whether we like their policies or not, almost anyone would have to admit that they had a knack for drawing people to themselves.  If we could find the connection, the things they had in common, we might be able to pinpoint some of the essential characteristics of an effective leader, or maybe even just a likeable person.”

Punke said her effort is difficult because of her limited time. She has only the month of July for her work.

“In some ways it’s a little tough because I’m getting such a limited experience. I’ll only have the chance to work on two projects and I think I’ll be lucky if I can finish them both before the end of the month,” she said.  

“However, the whole thing is such a wonderful opportunity that I’m not going to let the time constraints hinder my experience in any way. I really wanted to use this experience to get a better idea of what a career in history might look like.”

Punke is a senior starting her fifth year in college, and still not sure what all her options are for a history career or if history is even something she plans to stick with for the rest of her life.

“I’m doing some exploration, looking for some direction career-wise. I’m just trying to keep myself open to all possibilities. This experience has been really fun so far for a whole variety of reasons. I’ve learned how to work with microfilm newspapers, something I had never done before. It’s fun to read all the old newspapers from the early 1900s,” she said.  

“You see all the drastic changes that have taken place since then but there are also so many things about life that just never change. I’ve met so many nice people at the library and made some new friends which is always fun. I’ve had the chance to strike out on my own a bit, explore Springfield, stay in a hotel by myself for the first time, all kinds of exciting stuff. But I guess the best part is the possibility that something I’ve done might be used for something much bigger. That’s the really fun part of the whole thing.”