BA in History

Kelly Ryan, 1995

Kelly Ryan

Why did you choose History as a major?

I initially attended GMU thinking I would major in education.  After taking the general education requirements, I became more interested in history, anthropology, literature, philosophy, music, and theater.  What does a person do with so many interests?  Major in history which allows you to study all of these subjects!

What was your career path after graduation?

After graduation I immediately set about securing a job – any job, just like many undergraduates today.  I worked as an administrative assistant for several companies, and then learned some web design skills (we’re talking 1990s web design skills) as my role expanded at the company for which I worked.  My intellectual interests, however, kept beckoning me, and I missed the lively intellectual conversations and reading from my undergraduate life.  I set about applying to graduate school in history – first to Boston College for my M.A., and then to University of Maryland, College Park for my Ph.D. 

After earning my Ph.D., I moved to Louisville, Kentucky to take a job across the river at Indiana University Southeast. In addition to writing my first book – Regulating Passion (Oxford University Press) – I actively took up leadership and administrative roles at IU Southeast, serving as coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies and then the History departments.  Recently I stepped into my new role as Dean of the School of Sciences, where I get to return to my love of learning about multiple fields of intellectual inquiry. 

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

At GMU, l honed the skills of perspective taking, writing, and research, which were critical to my development as a historian and a working professional.  Communication skills and the ability to see different sides of an issue are invaluable in negotiating conflict and finding solutions to common problems.  In addition, I witnessed exemplary teaching and a faculty that truly cared about their students.  I had the opportunity to engage in research with my professors on my own and even assist in their work; this experience was invaluable in understanding the field and opening the doors to professional work outside of history after graduation. 

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

Liberal arts degrees are fundamental to the skill set you need in the workforce.  Although the fields of history, among other liberal arts degrees, are often the butt of jokes, studies show that employers are looking for individuals who know how to critically think, write and communicate.  Recently, CEO David Kalt (of and optionXpress), who was a major proponent of STEM degrees, realized that “better leaders in technology and life” come from those who major in liberal arts areas with minor fields in STEM.