Sara Evenson – Executive Director at the Chenango County Historical Society

Sara Evenson is a 2016 graduate of the VT Master’s in History program. She is currently the Executive Director at the Chenango County Historical Society in Norwich, New York.

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

A: After finishing at Tech, I spent some time working in nonprofit fundraising, teaching history at a local college, and working as an independent museum consultant. I am currently the Executive Director for the Chenango County Historical Society, a small, private nonprofit that preserves and celebrates regional history.

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

A: The diversity of my experiences at VT made me well-equipped to step into my current role. From working to organize conferences to producing academic scholarship to networking to teaching local fourth graders about the Civil War, each experience I had helped to teach me flexibility, leadership, and the best practices of both academic and public history. Seeking out a wide array of experiences certainly aided me the most in my professional path.

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

A: Use your thesis and research as a way to network with professionals connected to the field you want to enter! Your thesis isn’t just a research project—it can be the foundation for your career. Use it as an opportunity! I can’t tell you how fruitful it has been to have made contacts while I was researching my thesis. These have led to freelance consulting jobs, speaking engagements, and the development of a great professional network.

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

A: The most significant challenge I have faced in my career is geographic isolation. I live in a rural area without many employment options to begin with, much less with opportunities in my niche field of public history. But every challenge is an opportunity, so when I couldn’t find a job working at a museum, I instead found a position at a great nonprofit that taught me skills that will be relevant to any path my career takes. Stepping out of the field isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you do it deliberately, with an open mind to what you may learn and with an eye to how it can help you achieve your long-term goals.

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: My plans from here are to help my organization continue to become the best it can be, and to keep learning everything I possibly can!

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Alumni Interview with William Paxton

5cd9876282364db99138acee522874feWilliam Paxton is a 2013 graduate of the MA program in History at VT and is currently a Social Studies Teacher/Assistant Football Coach at Fort Defiance High School in Virginia.

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

A: I have been a teacher at Fort Defiance and Wilson Memorial High Schools, Teaching World Geography, Psychology, VA & US History, and Dual Enrollment Western Civilizations.

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

A: The fact that I was able to get such a wide range of experience in the field of History has been an enormous help. I was not only able to learn a lot about a wide variety of topics, but also numerous skills and jobs.  The knowledge of applying research and historical methodology, combined with the experience as an assistant in the classroom and lecture hall have given me a great foundation to build my own knowledge and skills.

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

A: Don’t be afraid to try new experiences. Whether taking a class that may not directly apply to your area of expertise or working as a teacher’s/research assistant for someone that has a different focus then your own, you will be surprised at how much you will learn and be able to apply to your own research and career.  The best way to advance and separate yourself from others is to apply new viewpoints and approaches that may come from approaching your problems from a different angle.

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

A: The job market right now is very difficult and very competitive. Don’t let this discourage you from chasing down what you want to do, but make sure that you understand how difficult it can be.  Stepping stone jobs can be a path to the job you always wanted, or let you discover that there may be a new career path that you can equally enjoy.

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: I plan on continuing to teach at the high school level, but in the future may continue my studies toward a PhD in History.

 

Alum Interview with Erica Aiken

15202563_10209243479097418_7805729966544303812_nErica Aiken is a 2014 graduate of the Master’s in History program at Virginia Tech and is currently working as an English 9 Lead Teacher and Professional Development Lead Teacher at Bowie High School.
Q: After graduating from Virginia Tech’s M.A. program, what have you done professionally?
A: After graduating, I entered the Resident Teacher Program in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and started teaching English at Bowie High School. I am now in my third year of teaching, and I’ve been promoted to the lead teacher for my grade, and the professional development lead teacher for my school. Currently, I’m researching strategies to decrease ninth grade retention in our school.
Q: How did your experience at Virginia Tech impact your career after graduate school?
A: I was extremely fortunate at Tech to work with the faculty members in the History department. Many of my professors were interested in my professional goals, and spent time mentoring me so that I would choose the right classes and activities to prepare myself for a career in education. Dr. Kiechle took special time out to take me to tea one day and discuss my strengths as a scholar and where I saw myself going after graduation. Dr. Jones always made time to discuss my career plains and tailor my class schedule and research projects to fit my goals. Dr. Stephens was an excellent mentor as I worked with him as a graduate teaching assistant.
Q: What advice would you give current or future students wanting to pursue a path similar to yours?
A: Take advantage of the resources around you- namely our esteemed faculty. They have all survived graduate school, and they genuinely care about helping you be successful in your career. There are so many career paths you can go down with the M.A. in History, so keep your mind open and be willing to take advice from your professors.
Q: What has been a major challenge you have encountered in your career? How have you dealt with it?
A: At first, I was a little overwhelmed about finding ways to manage my time with the heavy workload of an English teacher. I had to find time daily to plan lessons for adequate instruction, tweak the curriculum to fit the needs of my students, maintain contact with parents, and of course grade essays. I was able to deal with this relatively quickly thanks to my time as an M.A. student at Virginia Tech. The History program is equally challenging, and required a great deal of reading and writing for the course load and research requirements. Likewise, as a graduate teaching assistant, I also had to fit in grading papers and working with undergraduate students to ensure that they performed well in the course. The M.A. experience helped me learn how to manage my time so that I could work efficiently and still enjoy my hobbies. I’m glad this work-life balance could easily translate over to my career.
Q: What are your plans from here?
A: I remain a scholar, and I am currently pursuing a PhD in Education from Walden University. My family is also growing as my husband and I welcomed twins in February of 2016, and we anxiously await the birth of our third child in April of 2017. As I move forward, I see myself working to grow as a mother, a scholar, and a teacher. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to argue that my research on childhood and play with Dr. Jones has even translated over into how I function as a parent, but perhaps that’s best saved for another interview!

Alum Interview with Kimberly Staub

staub-photoKimberly Staub is a 2012 graduate of the MA in History Program at Virginia Tech. She is currently working at the Betsy Ross House as a Collections and Exhibitions Manager.

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

A: Professionally, I began my work in museums as a site supervisor at the Betsy Ross House.  I got to know the museum staff and leadership, and when a position opened up as the Collections & Exhibitions Manager, I was able to apply and was hired for the job. I have been Collections & Exhibitions Manager for three and a half years.

In my free time, I have been taking a few courses on museum management and non-profit leadership. I also serve as the vice president of Philadelphia’s Historic Neighborhood Consortium, a group that promotes collaboration among various museums and historic sites in Old City Philadelphia, and volunteer on the committee of the Young Friends of Independence National Historical Park.

Q: How did your experience at Virginia Tech impact your career after graduate school?

A: At Virginia Tech, one of the best experiences was my assistantship in Special Collections. The experience I gained there researching and processing collections, handling artifacts, and basic conservation skills, combined with the strong emphasis on research and writing from the History Department, were essential in my being hired at the Betsy Ross House.

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

The job application process can be daunting, and believe me when I say you will send out a ton of resumes. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of small internships or low-level jobs because you never know where they may lead. Working as a site supervisor was not the job I had hoped for out of graduate school, but it did open the door for me to the career I wanted.

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

A: One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far is creating a good work-life balance. Most of us who work in history and museums are incredibly passionate about what we do (and you have to be—you don’t work in museums for the money), which makes it easy for you to take your work home with you, or volunteer to work extra shifts, or respond to work emails at every waking moment.

We all love what we do, but that makes it easy to burn out. So while I still participate in a lot of history-related activities in my free time, I try to remind myself to take time away from the job, find friends outside the field, and not let my passion for my job take over my life.

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: In my current position, there are a few big re-interpretation projects on the horizon that I am excited to be part of, including a brand new orientation gallery.

Broadly speaking, I hope to continue working on management and development skills that will prepare me for a more senior management position. I am still fairly early in my career (less than 5 years in the field), but I love what I do and know that I want to stay in the field.

Alum Interview with Matt Saionz

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Matt’s master’s thesis was titled “‘For the Hills of Santa Fe’: The Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841 and the Southwest Market Economy.”

Matt Saionz is a 2011 graduate of the MA in History Program at Virginia Tech. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in History at the University of Florida.

 

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

A: After earning my M.A. from the program in 2011, the Virginia Tech history department generously offered me an adjunct position for the following academic year. I jumped on that fantastic opportunity to build a teaching portfolio and prepare my applications to Ph.D. programs. In the fall of 2012, I began my studies at the University of Florida, where I worked through a couple years of coursework, took my exams, and conducted research for my dissertation. With a lot of material from archives in Mexico and the United States, I am currently writing my dissertation and working on some conference presentations and potential publications.

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

A: The program at Virginia Tech can be best understood as a compressed, intense 2-year version of a Ph.D. Program. Looking back on my time in the department, I really can’t believe how much we did in such a short span: took a full load of classes, performed TA duties, developed an original research project, researched and wrote a sizeable three-chapter thesis, organized a conference, and, in some cases, taught a class as the instructor of record. All of these tasks aided me in one way or another since my time there. However, in my personal experience, having the opportunity to teach my own class in my final semester at Virginia Tech has been particularly rewarding. In addition to helping me land that adjunct position, the experience allowed me to begin teaching my own courses at the University of Florida much earlier than most and has therefore put me in a favorable position once I go onto the job market.

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

A: There are a few things I would advise. First, if you’re unsure about committing to a Ph.D. program and a possible career as a professional historian, do consider a terminal M.A. If you are not beaten into the ground and are still enthusiastic about all things history by the end, then perhaps a Ph.D. is in your future. It’s a grueling, long, tedious process, and a terminal M.A. is a good way to figure out what you can handle and what you want long-term. Second, do take seriously the poor academic job market in history (and the humanities in general). Thankfully, a growing number of programs and graduate coordinators are being honest with their students and educating them about alternate career paths. It’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to jobs, but I also think it’s essential not to settle for a job you won’t be happy with. If you can only envision yourself as a full-tenured professor at a research institution and absolutely cringe at the thought of anything else, then, frankly, consider another line of work. But there are shades of gray in this field across the public and private sectors, and if you are open to working for the government (all levels) or a museum, at least for a time, then proceed! Third (and this connects to the next question), it should be a top priority to develop and maintain a life outside of graduate school and work. There will always be more reading to do, papers to write, assignments to grade, research to conduct, etc. Do not let graduate school jeopardize your happiness, because it will if you let it. Go out, volunteer, date, watch football, cook, practice your hobbies, or go for a run. If you can work out a healthy balance between your professional and personal lives, you’ll find that one rewards the other. Remember that, despite what your parents might think, graduate school is your job, and you’re allowed to have fun.

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

A: Given my path from an M.A. program at one school to a Ph.D. program at another, the burn-out factor has been in play at times. Most schools don’t allow graduate coursework to transfer, so I suspect this isn’t uncommon. By the time I finally took my exams, I had three to fours years of coursework under my belt. The weekly grind became difficult and I wasn’t always as motivated as I would have liked. The prospect of dealing with my own research and projects ultimately carried me through, and I would recommend that students facing this problem should do something similar. To be perfectly honest, I still haven’t fully re-emerged and find it difficult to focus at times. Ultimately, what one eventually realizes is that remaining invigorated and energized professionally requires a dedication to also groom and grow a fulfilling personal life.

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: My immediate plans are admittedly rather modest: write the dissertation and finish. If I can publish an article or two along the way, even better. As I begin to think more seriously about job prospects, non-academic careers become more and more appealing (and realistic). Government jobs in particular can be fulfilling. While I would miss the chance to teach regularly, an employer like, say, the National Park Service would afford me ample opportunities to do my own research and, importantly, bridge that still-wide gap between professional historians and the general public.

Alum Interview with Abraham Gibson

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Dr. Abraham Gibson is a 2008 graduate of the History MA program at Virginia Tech. We reached out to him recently to see what he has been up to.

Q: After graduating from Virginia Tech’s M.A. program, what did you do?

A: After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2008, I entered the doctoral program at Florida State University. I earned a Ph.D. in History in 2013.

Q: How did your experience at Virginia Tech impact your career after graduate school?

A: My graduate training at Virginia Tech provided me with a rigorous, intimate, and altogether invaluable introduction to the historical profession. Working with world-class professors, I learned what it means and what it takes to be a successful historian, and the experience ultimately convinced me to pursue advanced training.

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

A: Be mindful of recent trends in the historical profession. Take stock of the challenges you will face and then follow your heart.

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

A: I confess that I have sometimes struggled with impatience. Historians are a famously deliberate bunch, and professional recognitions like graduations, publications, and promotions are far too infrequent for my taste. I deal with my impatience by telling people that I do yoga.

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: I am lucky that I get to teach for a living, and I’ll continue to ply my trade as long as I can.

Alum Interview with Rosemary Zlokas

zlokas-vtphRosemary Zlokas is a 2015 graduate of the History MA program with a concentration in Public History. We caught up with her to learn about what her professional life is like after graduation.

Q: Where are you working and what is your position like?

A: I am working as a Curatorial Assistant/Gallery Technician at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, TN. The museum is an amazing–and huge!–institution that had over one million visitors last year, so there is always something exciting happening. I assist with collecting, cataloging, and researching artifacts, along with preparing items to go on exhibit. I also install and de-install temporary exhibits as well as maintain current exhibits.

Q: How did you hear about the opening for your current position?

A: When I started my job search, I kept checking for openings through major public history organizations like NCPH, but also the job boards of several specific museums in Nashville (where I had just moved to at the time). I was fortunate to see the posting for my current position the day it went up and applied right away.

Q: What were the application and interview processes like for your job?

A: I wrote a cover letter (both Dr. Cline and Dr. Winling were super great in helping me revise cover letters) specific to this position and sent it in along with my resume. I had several rounds of interviews, which all included questions on previous experience, how I would handle the role I was applying for, and what I hoped to be doing in a few years.

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

A: I’m really grateful for my graduate assistant experiences. I had the opportunity to work closely with faculty on several diverse projects and gain exposure to different public history arenas. Professionally speaking, it was really helpful to have my assistantship experience and the internship I completed for my PH certificate on my resume, along with solid faculty recommendations, when applying to jobs.

Q: Did you have any internships that helped you transition to the professional life?

A: Yes, I actually interned with the Education department at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum for my internship requirement as part of the PH certificate.  I’m in the Curatorial/Exhibits department now, but my intern supervisor has been such a great resource all along. I had also interned with a handful of museums as an undergrad, which helped secure the higher-level internship and also meant a wider variety of experience on my resume when it came to applying for jobs. (So yes, my internships were really important!)

Q: What has been your favorite exhibit/project/moment at the museum?

A: There have been so many! It was probably the project where I got to share the amazing couture we have in the collection with famous designers who wanted to learn more about fashion throughout country music history… (that was fun to read about in fashion blogs the next day!) Or, it was the time our team went to rural Alabama to pull/transport artifacts for an upcoming exhibit (which was just as glamorous in its own way).

Q: What are your plans from here?

A: For the time being, I am enjoying growing into new responsibilities in my current position and keeping up with opportunities for professional advancement.