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Study abroad trip leads alum to a life in academics
Thursday, May 29, 2014
As a Southeastern undergraduate student, Wendy Talley Bendeck recalls walking across Normandy Beach in France while taking a university study-abroad course in the late '90s.
"It became clear to me then that history was my true passion and where I should be. I came home and changed my major from psychology," she said.
The 2001 graduate from Folsom in St. Tammany Parish pursued her dream, earning her master's and doctoral degrees in history from Florida State University, where she now serves as on the faculty of the International Affairs Program and as director of undergraduate studies.
The experience at Normandy focused her attention on World War II, which she researched for her master's thesis and doctoral dissertation. That work led to her recently published book, "A" Force: the Origins of British Deception During the Second World War."
The book focuses on the intelligence and deception activities that the British carried out during the war. The more she researched the topic, the more she became to recognize the role of an organization called "A" Force, which had mastered the art of deception in the deserts of African while fighting German and Italian troops. "A" Force, she said, developed the deception blueprint being used by London to cover the D-Day landings.
Her interest took her to the British National Archives, which housed the entire "A" Force collection. There she did much of the research for her graduate degrees and her recent book.
"Without a doubt, the Normandy experience helped shape me into the person I am today," she said at a book signing in Mandeville during the Christmas season. "I recall standing on Omaha Beach, looking not at the water scene we often see in old black and white photos, but at the cliffs our soldiers faced. It was shocking to me. One can still see where the German guns were embedded into the cliffs with concrete gun encasements menacingly perched above."
Later that day, she and her classmates visited the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach, which made her realize the sacrifices American soldiers made during the war.
"It was there, at that moment, that I truly began to realize what it was to be an American and that my freedom was anything but free," she recalls. "I have never since failed to appreciate my freedom and am eternally grateful to all the men and women who have fought and died, as well as those who continue to fight for our nation, to ensure that we are free."
She counts among her mentors former history Professor Judith Fai-Podlipnik, who, she said, cultivated her as a student and was instrumental in her decision to pursue graduate degrees. She also credits Professor Andrew Tarver for having a profound impact on her and Samuel Hyde, who she says sparked her love for another area of history in modern China.
Bendeck credits Southeastern with giving her the direction she needed out of high school.
"Like many undergraduates, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do when I began my studies at Southeastern," she said. "I am deeply appreciative of the education and experiences I had at Southeastern."