Alumni Interview with Rebecca Williams

Rebecca Williams graduated from Virginia Tech with a BA in History in 2015, and again with an MA in History with a Public History certificate in 2017. She is currently the Visitor Services & Retail Manager at the Museums at Washington and Lee University.

Q: After graduating from Virginia Tech’s M.A. program, what have you done professionally?

It took me over a year to find a full-time job in the field of public history when I graduated, but while I was on the job search, I strung together a couple of part-time positions — one of which was with the Special Collections and University Archives at Virginia Tech (my favorite of the jobs!). In summer of 2018 I began my full-time career with a great opportunity as the Museum Operations Assistant for the Museums at Washington and Lee University. I was promoted to Visitor Services & Retail Manager in October 2021. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the Miller’s House Museum in Lexington, VA and act as the VP of Community Development for the Lexington-Rockbridge Jaycees.

Q: What is one thing that you did at Virginia Tech that aided you in your professional or academic path?

Choosing to pursue the Public History certificate within my Master’s program and choosing classes that weren’t “typical” history classes (such as Digital History, where we wrote and produced podcast episodes) were extremely helpful in determining the direction I’d go in once I graduated. Public History is a great field because it’s so broad — I chose to go into museums, but the field can include pursuits such as podcasting, filmmaking, virtual tour creation, and more!

Q: What advice would you give current or future students wanting to pursue a path similar to yours?

Be prepared and try to be open to taking on experiences that might take you out of a “traditional” path or look a little different from what you imagined! I took internships in several areas of the public history field in order to pull together a toolkit of skills that could be applied to a larger array of opportunities — eventually I found the area that was best suited to my strengths.

Q: What has been a major challenge you have encountered in your career? How have you dealt with it?

I have spent my full-time museums career so far working in university museums, which is a great thing in many ways; however, when one of the museums that you oversee is the burial site of Robert E. Lee, some challenges arise — especially in my realm of visitor services and publicity. The past few years (particularly following the events in Charlottesville in 2017) have seen a considerable rise in issues and tensions related to the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee, and white supremacy — many of which boil over in different ways at our site. I spent many a public history seminar going over case studies which echoed these types of issues, but now I’m faced with them on a daily basis. I’m grateful that my education provided me with the knowledge and tools to handle these moments, but it remains challenging every day.

Q: What are your plans from here?

I really enjoy working in university settings and will likely try to continue for the foreseeable future, but you never know when the next unexpected opportunity could surprise you! I do plan to continue work in museums and/or archives for as long as possible.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

In my (precious little) free time, I co-host a horror movie podcast with a couple of my friends. If you enjoy horror movies (the good, the bad, AND the ugly), check out Horrorscape Podcast!

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