BA in History

Matthew Robinson, 2015

Matthew Robinson

Why did you choose history as a major?

History has always been a driving passion of mine, so I grew up knowing that it would be my major someday. As a kid I read a lot about Swedish and Russian history, and eventually gravitated toward interests in U.S. foreign policy and Central and Eastern Europe. I transferred to GMU to finish my undergraduate degree after several years working, so I was a bit older than many of my classmates. Having faint memories of watching the Berlin Wall fall as a kindergartener, I found it very satisfying to dive deep into the events of 1989 and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in my HIST 300 course with Dr. Mills Kelly.

What was your career path after graduation?

Fortunately, I had great advisors during my time at Mason who helped me chart a path. Over my final summer and fall semesters, I worked on an application for the Fulbright Program with guidance from Dr. LaNitra Berger in the Office of Fellowships. Notification that I'd been selected for a Fulbright grant came about five minutes after I finished my very last final exam. Three months after graduation, I had moved to the Czech Republic to teach English for what would be one of the best years of my life. Through Fulbright, I met a number of State Department personnel who motivated me to apply for opportunities there. When I returned stateside in the fall of 2016, I went through several rounds of interviews and was ultimately offered a job.

I knew that the clearance process could take a long time, but could not have foreseen the hiring freeze that followed in 2017. Reconciling myself to the uncertainty it brought, I found a job with a civic education non-profit, the Close Up Foundation. This role gave me a chance to talk about American history and politics all day, using D.C. as a classroom to help secondary school students learn about our democratic system and explore their power and responsibility as citizens. I learned a great deal from the educators and students we served. Moving on to a role developing the foundation's alumni relations department provided me an opportunity to build a program from the ground up and grow as a leader. I spent a fair amount of time on Capitol Hill cultivating the network of our alumni there. My favorite part of the job was crafting alumni profiles (not unlike this one), in which we shared how the experiences of each highlighted Close Up student or staff member inspired them to pursue civic engagement in their professional and personal lives.

By fall 2018 I was ready for a new challenge, so I was as excited as ever when State finally called with a date for me to enter on duty. November marks three years for me at the Department. The pandemic has certainly affected us, as it has for so many others, but I'm proud of how my team has persisted in our work.

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

As a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Analyst, I work with a team that responds to inquiries from all manner of requesters -- from private citizens, to academics, to Congress. Sifting through mountains of federal records draws upon the research skills that my history coursework helped me to hone. FOIA isn't always top of mind for most people... that is until a certain subject becomes a top concern of every politician, journalist, and government watchdog in the country. One thing I love about my job is gaining insight into how the sausage gets made when it comes to foreign policy. We have a commitment to government transparency and work every day to make sure that the American people can access all the information that we're entitled to as citizens. I'm fortunate to have advanced professionally during my short time at State, and am excited to see what the future holds.

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

Go to office hours and get to know your professors. Beyond the recommendations they can provide down the road, they offer a wealth of knowledge. In addition to Mills (Kelly), Dr. Platt is one of the most considerate and insightful teachers I've ever encountered, so don't pass up a chance to take a course with either of them.