History major John Stefanek has always been interested in the U.S. presidents. For his senior thesis, he examined Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in advancing the cause of the Civil Rights Movement.
The senior from Alma has been awarded the M.J.J. Smith Society Scholarship, which is given to Alma College’s most outstanding graduating history major. The scholarship carries up to $20,000 to apply toward post-graduate study.
Stefanek plans to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Montana, with an eventual goal of teaching history at a college or university.
For his senior thesis, Stefanek examined archival documents from the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, to analyze Johnson’s role as senate majority leader in the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. His thesis argues that the bill paved the way for future civil rights legislation that LBJ would champion as president.
“Spending 10 days at the Lyndon Johnson Library was an incredible experience; I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he says. “I’m especially grateful for the archivists — especially Allen Fisher —for their invaluable assistance.”
M.J.J. Smith was a member of the Alma College history and pre-law faculty for 32 years, retiring in 1997. He had an influential impact on many Alma College alumni who have gone on to careers in law and business.
Stefanek presented his senior thesis, titled “Not Your Typical Southern Strategist: Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act of 1957,” at Alma College’s annual Kapp Honors Day. His presentation was selected as one of three Kapp Honors Day Prize recipients.
Cassandra Florian, a junior from Grand Ledge, also was honored by the History Department. She received the Jean Fox Abruzzino Memorial Award, which recognizes academic excellence and provides financial support for study in the senior year at Alma.