Why did you choose History as a major?
I had a wonderful history teacher in high school who made the past come alive in his lectures and assignments. We weren’t asked simply to memorize names and dates; we were challenged and encouraged to read, analyze sources, and write (a lot!). I loved learning about people, places, and events that have shaped the world’s development and writing essays in response to his very thought-provoking prompts. His classes were different from any other history courses I’d previously taken and were great preparation for college.
I knew I wanted to study history by my senior year of high school, so the D.C. area—with its ties to American history and government and its many museums and historical institutions—was a natural choice. Mason has a phenomenal history department and provides excellent opportunities to connect with potential history-related careers through internships. This was a big draw for me (in addition to Mason’s proximity to D.C., its diversity, and the general campus spirit).
I am really happy that I majored in history—I learned so much and truly enjoyed my classes. I had brilliant professors who were incredibly supportive and encouraging, and I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of a number of great opportunities offered by the department.
What was your career path after graduation?
I started working in the publications department at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Washington, D.C., the summer after graduating. I believe the experiences I had as a student at Mason played a big role in helping me to secure this position, gain experience in the field, and develop a skill set that will be an asset as I work to further my career ambitions and enter graduate school in the next few years.
How do you think your History major at Mason prepared you for your career?
Studying history helps to develop the “soft skills” that are crucial in today’s workplace—the ability to speak and write clearly; to analyze data, evaluate sources, and think critically; and to understand and appreciate complex relationships and contexts that contribute to current events.
In my role at AERA, I manage the production of a scholarly journal, copyedit manuscripts and book chapters, format and typeset in-house publications, and conduct research about AERA’s history. The in-depth research and writing skills honed as a student in Mason’s history program have been tremendously beneficial to my work, and my employment as a writer on the Mason History Project exposed me to archival research and introduced me to metadata entry and the Adobe design suite, which I use regularly.
Any advice you’d like to give to current Mason students?
Get involved. There is so much to do at Mason, socially and academically. In addition to social extracurriculars, consider scholarly pursuits, as well—perhaps joining an honor society or completing a history honors thesis. I volunteered as a peer reviewer for the Mason Review, Mason’s student-run scholarly journal, and it improved my writing and editing skills and is related to the work I do now as a managing/production editor for one of AERA’s journals.
Participate in class and get to know your professors and advisor. They’re incredibly knowledgeable and kind and have so much to offer in the way of encouragement and constructive criticism. Stop by their office hours and get to know each other.
Take advantage of internship/fellowship opportunities. Mason offers credit for approved internships; I worked with my advisor and the internship director and had the opportunity to apply this credit to internships at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and as a research assistant for a biography contracted by Catholic Charities USA. These were amazing experiences, and I was very grateful to be able to count the applied knowledge gained through these internships toward my course load.
Study abroad. Talk with your advisor and the Center for Global Education—studying abroad can be much more affordable than you might think, especially through direct exchange programs, and scholarships are available. Mason offers programs of various lengths throughout the year (month-long summer internship programs, semester- and year-long programs, and winter break trips). I had the opportunity to study abroad during winter break of my junior year; our group traveled to Berlin, Budapest, Belgrade, and Sarajevo to learn about the history and present state of these post-Communist capitals. The trip expanded my worldview and perceptions about the places we visited—I highly recommend it.
Work hard, have fun, and be confident that a degree in history is well worth pursuing. There isn’t one trajectory that history majors follow, but there are plentiful opportunities inside and outside academia to apply the skills you’ve learned. Mason’s program is excellent and will open many doors for you!