Alumna, History Professor Collaborate to Prepare Students for College

Office of Communications | November 23, 2012
Jonathan Chu with Elizabeth Pilla's AP History students. Courtesy: Fran Karoff

Jonathan Chu with Elizabeth Pilla's AP History students. Courtesy: Fran Karoff

History Department Hopes to Develop More Ongoing Relations with High School Teachers

Advanced Placement (AP) tests are designed to prepare high school students for the type of analytical thinking they will be doing in college. So students in Elizabeth Pilla’s AP and Honors United States History classes might just have an advantage when they take their exams this spring, after receiving some preparation tips from a UMass Boston professor.

Pilla, who was one of Professor of History Jonathan Chu’s students while she was an undergraduate and graduate student here, first invited Chu to speak to her classes at Fontbonne Academy in Milton about five years ago.

Chu, who has been on the test development committee for the national AP United States History exam, is now the chief reader designate, meaning he is in training to become the chief reader. The chief reader sits in on the development committee that writes the exam and is responsible for organizing and running the grading of the test. Speaking with Pilla’s students and seeing how they approach an exam question gives Chu some perspective when it comes to his own responsibilities.

“It’s important to stay in touch with schools because you have to understand how students will read a question. If you don't phrase it correctly, you can get answers you don't anticipate. When you see that, you can go back to the teachers and say you not only have to teach the content, you have to teach the content in ways that will anticipate the questions,” Chu said.

Chu said the thing he tried to stress the most during his November 7 visit was for students to “think like a historian” and, when in the essay portion of the exam, to use the principles they’ve been taught to provide some analysis, not just a series of memorized facts. Chu told the students they should think through their answers, and know where they are going to end up before they start writing.

Junior Collette O’Connor said Chu’s message was helpful for more than just this exam.

“It is great that we can have a college professor to help us prepare for not just this essay, but all of our college writing,” O’Connor said.

“It’s great for my students because not only do they get instruction, they learn what is expected of them at a college level. The more I can bring that college experience into the classroom, the better it is for the students,” Pilla said.

Pilla said on a personal level, the collaboration has allowed her to “keep in touch with her roots and recharge her batteries.”

A more formal partnership between UMass Boston and Fontbonne Academy is in the works. Pilla said she is currently exploring various ways to formalize and extend the partnership. Chu said there are several members of the History Department who want to develop more ongoing partnerships with other high school teachers as well.

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s nine colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

Tags: alumni , community , history

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