BA in History

Regina Bechtel, 2018

Regina Bechtel

Why did you choose history as a major?

I love history.  I’ve always loved learning about how people lived in the past and how past events have impacted the world we live in today.  I enjoy studying, learning, and teaching history.  I’ve worked jobs where I’ve woken up in the morning and dreaded going to work and every minute was a struggle.  So when I decided to go to college, I knew I needed to invest the time, money, and effort into something I was passionate about. 

What was your career path after graduation?

My first position was as a part-time historic interpreter position at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Working there was incredible!  I was immersed in history.  Everyone around me was so knowledgeable and passionate about everything George Washington.  I was introduced to interpreting the difficult and painful history surrounding slavery.  Learning how to interpret the violence and disenfranchisement inflicted upon people of color throughout American history has been a constant thread throughout my career. 

My next position was in a special temporary trainee position as a Park Ranger at President’s Park in Washington, D.C. President’s Park consists of the grounds of the White House, Lafayette Park, and the Ellipse.  Again, an amazing, incredible experience.  President’s Park facilitates the White House Garden Tours, White House Easter Egg Roll, White House Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, among many other events.  I gave tours of the White House to 4th graders as part of the Find Your Park and Every Kid in a Park initiatives.  I helped visitors to the nation’s capital navigate the challenging process of requesting tours of the White House.  Part of my job was to visit other museums and national parks in and around downtown Washington, D.C. so I was familiar and knowledgeable and could provide assistance to the park’s visitors. 

In late 2019 I landed a job as a permanent and full-time Visitor Assistant at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.  Since then I have been promoted to Visitor Guide. Prior to the pandemic I gave tours of the U.S. Capitol building to students, foreign visitors, families, etc. I’ve had the honor and privilege to support ceremonies and events such as Lying in Honor and Lying in State and a Joint Session of Congress.  During the pandemic my work has shifted towards online programming, researching and creating content, and many hours of professional and personal development.  I am surrounded by incredibly intelligent people and every day I learn something new.  I take great pride and feel it is my civic duty to connect Americans to their government and educate people about their civic roles in that government. 

How do you think your History major at Mason prepared you for your career?

Mason is whatever you make of it.  Mason was instrumental in developmental preparation for my career.  I went to every class, took all the notes, did all the homework, read (most) of what I was assigned, wrote all the papers, took every test, asked all the questions, and applied for many, many scholarships.  I got a lot out of it. 

The support of my professors and advisors empowered me to take on new challenges.  I was encouraged to explore new opportunities and always got great constructive feedback on my work.  As a commuter student, I wanted to become more involved in college so with a group of like-minded peers and professors, we started a student organization with a focus on history and professional development.  That was my first experience in a leadership and public speaking role.  That organization was like training wheels on a bike for me.

A unique and consequential experience I had during my time at Mason was an internship at the Fairfax County Historic Courthouse.  This was my introduction to historic interpretation.  I would describe that experience as instrumental to the beginning of my career in the field of history.  It was the first time I met people with history degrees who weren’t teachers.  It was the first time I was confronted with physical evidence (beyond textbooks, movies, and narratives) of slavery and the impact that has had on people for generations.  I got to work in an archive and watch the historians who work at the courthouse give tours of the building.  At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal, but that internship had a profound impact and really set me up for the next step in my career, which would be to work at Mount Vernon as a historic interpreter.

Any advice you’d like to give current Mason students?

In general, people who are not active or knowledgeable within the field of history are not aware that there are many career paths for people with degrees in history.  We love our history teachers.  History teachers inspire future historians, but you can do many things with a degree in history, not just teach in a school setting. There are so many careers in the field of history and it is constantly evolving. 

Say yes to opportunities, no matter how seemingly inconsequential or outside your comfort zone it may seem at the time.  Every new experience you have and skill you develop makes you more valuable to your employer and adds to your personal and professional development.  You need to make yourself marketable.  

In the area of general workplace advice, do be sure to value and prioritize your well-being. Your personal safety is paramount, and it is good to set boundaries with others in order to protect your personal safety.