Story by Andy Olson
“What are you going to do with that?” is a question many parents and relatives ask potential history majors.
In recent years, the assumption that a degree in history results in underemployment or low-paid work has led to a drastic decline in the number of bachelor degrees awarded in history. Another common assumption among students (and their nervous parents) is that history degrees only prepare students for teaching at the collegiate level, where jobs are scarce.
However, there are many career options for history majors that exist outside the academy, but these options often are not discussed until history students reach graduate programs. At Colorado State University’s first-ever History Career Day on Feb. 8, the Public Lands History Center, in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts Recruitment and Rocky Mountain High School, challenged students to think outside of the box about careers in history.
A day on campus
PLHC project manager Ariel Schnee and Rocky Mountain High School teacher Kurt Knierim worked with College of Liberal Arts recruitment coordinator Erika Pepmeyer to organize the day-long experience for RMHS students on CSU’s campus. On Feb. 8, high school students had the opportunity to engage with archivists, curators, museum directors and digital experts to learn how they apply history and liberal arts skills in their professional lives.
Classroom visits allowed students to observe a college learning environment, while the tour, led by student RAMbassadors, showcased the campus, allowed RMHS students to imagine themselves as CSU students for the day, and gave them a chance to talk to current students in the College of Liberal Arts.
The afternoon sessions emphasized the flexibility of the history degree in the professional world. Students chose from three different tracks: museum studies, resource management and public history. Students who chose the museum studies track visited the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising and the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art. They interacted with the directors of both museums and learned about their training and career paths.
Students on the resource management track visited Jeannine Pedersen-Guzman at CSU’s Archeological Repository and Patricia Rettig at the CSU Water Resources Archives. They learned about the work and expertise that goes into maintaining historical collections, artifacts and other resources.
The public history track involved a tour of the Digital Liberal Arts Hub, led by digital historian Leisl Carr Childers. At the hub, students experienced an interactive choose-your-own-adventure presentation created by Jonathon Carlyon and the hub’s associate director, Colin Behnke, as well as a visit to the Public Lands History Center.
At the Public Lands History Center, Schnee hosted a session that challenged students to think like resource managers and apply historical skills to solve a problem involving a historic structure. While students had never been asked to think about history as a way to solve real-world problems before, they soon began thinking of creative solutions with the assistance of graduate student researchers Kylee Cole, Bekah Schields and Andrew Olson, as well as the center’s undergraduate interns, Gentrice Petrie and Adeline Renstrom.
A new understanding
Lively conversations flourished as the students raised possible management tactics for the building and debated the pros and cons of their recommendations. The activity helped students understand how historians apply their skills in a practical way and enabled them to see themselves as resource managers in training.
“The students really enjoyed the sessions and learned a lot about what they could do with a history degree,” said Knierim.
The PLHC plans to continue its relationship with Rocky Mountain High School and expand its efforts to connect to history students by offering high school students the opportunity to apply to its 2019 summer field workshop at Rocky Mountain National Park.