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Rita Livingston

Professor Rita Livingston
(Pictured with Hurricane Katrina relief students)

The Power of One:
From the Center of Devastation Professor Helps Students Learn the Greatest Lesson

By Margaret Hackett

Upon arrival to the small town of Pearlington, Miss., devastated by Hurricane Katrina, a bus full of College of Charleston students, teachers, and staff volunteers were greeted by the priest of the local Catholic church, Father Jim, who exclaimed "God has sent me angels."

In just two short weeks, what began as a College of Charleston professor's fall break trip to a Hurricane Katrina disaster area took on a life of its own, becoming an unprecedented community service trip for C of C students.

When history professor Rita Livingston began discussing her fall break plans with students, she could have never imagined the response which she would receive. Within two weeks Livingston had 75 students willing and enthusiastic to spend their fall break assisting with relief efforts. Livingston has always been a firm believer in the concept of teaching through action, and she saw this trip as an amazing opportunity to engage the students and herself in this devastating catastrophe and most importantly leave the experience with the sense that "Each of one of us had made a difference, so many times you don't know what the power of one truly is," Livingston says.

"This trip gave each student the opportunity to make a difference by learning," Livingston says. "The students saw what total devastation truly is."

The 75 volunteers shared three showers, slept in sleeping bags on hard floors, and at times would sacrifice their meal vouchers for hungry families victimized by Hurricane Katrina. Livingston was no exception to these conditions; in fact she and her air mattress were right there with the students.

"Professor Livingston is a real leader, she is the type of person who drives people to accomplish something, while making you find a real appreciation for what you are doing," says student Leigh Ann Ziemke.

For 20 years Livingston has instilled this appreciation and enthusiasm in her students while teaching world history courses at the College of Charleston. Her enthusiasm does not go unnoticed. "Professor Livingston is truly one of a kind," student John Holifield says. "I know very few teachers who care more about their students than they do themselves! I actually looked forward to attending her history class. She made history both fun and interesting for everyone in the class."

A native of Ridgeland, S.C., Livingston found a deep appreciation for history in Jasper County where she was raised. This is where her interest in the history of South Carolina counties began. Livingston would graduate from Columbia College with degrees in English and history, and then earn a master's degree in history from The Citadel.

In the past five years Livingston has completed two published pictorial history books, "Reflections: A Pictorial History of Jasper County, South Carolina" in 2001, and "From Cotton Fields to Golf Courses: A Pictorial History of Elloree and Santee, South Carolina" in 2004. Both books represent her passion for history and in particular South Carolina history.

Currently Professor Livingston is working on two new projects. The first is a pictorial history of Hampton County, S.C., projected to be finished in fall 2006. The second project reflects on the AME Church in South Carolina, the history in text and pictures, which she hopes to complete in 2007. Not only is she in the process of completing these two projects, she is finishing plans with the Cougar Club to create a a history book about College of Charleston athletics, a project which she is very excited about beginning.

Livingston plans to take another trip back to hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana in December. There she plans to work with smaller group that is helping rebuilding some overlooked towns. "I believe it's going to take hundreds of small groups like our group that went in October to really make a difference and rebuild this area," she says.

She adds that while helping out in the Katrina disaster area "there really are no issues of faith, gender, or race, just a group of people who want to make a difference."

In the classroom and with the creation of opportunities such as the Fall Break trip, Professor Livingston has genuinely made a difference in her student's lives as well as in the lives of the people she has touched through her enthusiasm to make a difference. Her passion for teaching, and love for History can be seen in the classroom, in her published works, and most of all through her actions.

For more information on Rita Livingston, visit her College of Charleston website at https://www.cofc.edu/~history/faculty_bio/Livingston.htm