John Payne header

After he graduates this spring from Pfeiffer University, where he has majored in history, John Payne of Denton wants to become a college admissions counselor. If he does, he’ll be following in the footsteps of Cheyenne Little '18 MSL, who showed him just how important an admissions counselor can be to prospective and fledgling college students.

Little, who now works at South Piedmont Community College, was one of Pfeiffer’s admissions counselors when Payne was finishing up high school. She not only made the idea of attending Pfeiffer attractive for Payne but also helped him surmount the logistical challenges related to finances and settling in on campus.

“Even after I enrolled, I knew that if I ever needed something, she was there,” he said. “I’ve learned that starting that kind of relationship from the ground up is a really essential part of making the transition to college.”

Payne would find that Pfeiffer’s professors were just as impactful as Little was. With their guidance, he has undertaken intriguing research projects as a member of the University Honors Program. He has improved his public-speaking and debating skills as a member of the Pfeiffer contingent that competed at the North Carolina Ethics Bowl. And he has found ways to help his fellow students, having served as a peer tutor for one year and as a peer mentor for another. Payne also became the president of Spectrum, Pfeiffer’s LGBTQIA+ organization, a position he held for two years.

John Speak

Payne is particularly bullish on interning and on studying abroad. He earned credit for both his junior year. During the fall semester, he served as a special events intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.; this was part of Pfeiffer’s Capitol Hill Internship Program. And when the spring semester rolled around, he traveled to Ireland to study at Maynooth University.

These junior-year experiences help explain why Payne calls Pfeiffer “the biggest positive force” in his life. At the Smithsonian museum, Payne assisted with several special events, from the reopening of the American Entertainment Exhibition, which included the return of the Wizard of Oz’s ruby slippers to public display, to an orientation breakfast for new members of Congress elected to office in 2018.

As for Payne’s stint in Ireland, this was under the auspices of the American Institute for Foreign Study. It emerged at the suggestion of several of Payne’s Pfeiffer friends, who had enjoyed similar experiences abroad. Payne not only got a significant taste of studying at a university in a foreign country; he also took tours of major Irish cities and of the Guinness Storehouse. Breaks were long enough for him to visit the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Hungary, Austria and Spain.

Payne, incidentally, had completed most of his major’s credit hours before his junior year, which made it easier for him to leave campus. However, during his junior year, he still had to do research required of him by the University Honors Program. During the fall semester he spent in Washington, this entailed uncovering material for a junior thesis that analyzed the history of the Smithsonian Institution and the role of history museums in society.

Enter Dr. Michael Thompson, a professor of history who directs Pfeiffer’s honors program. Thompson, who was also Payne’s research advisor, worked remotely with Payne while he was in Washington. “He was really great about helping me stay up to date for what I needed to be doing for that (junior thesis) project even though I was five and a half hours away from Pfeiffer,” Payne said.

During the spring semester of his junior year, Payne began doing prep work for his senior thesis, which will be on the history of drag in society, mainly in America. He has concluded that since most of the guiding texts on this topic had been published in the 1980s and ’90s, a more holistic update of existing scholarship should materialize. This would integrate recent cultural and anthropological studies, and it would illuminate how current events fit into a larger historical narrative. 

“I’m having to dig a lot deeper than I ever have before,” Payne said. “At the same time, if it works out, which I hope it will, I’ll have a product that will be unlike anything I’ve ever done in my time here. It will be something pretty much new to the world.”

John In Ireland