JF: Why did you decide to major in history in college?
CB: When I entered Messiah College, I planned to be a high school history teacher upon graduation. I had always been interested in history – most of my books of choice during primary and secondary school were historical fiction – and I desired to pass on this love of history to teenagers. Early in my college career however, I quickly realized that I was far more interested in my history classes than my education classes, and as a sophomore decided to abandon my pursuit of an education certification so I could focus solely on my study of history. Though I wasn’t at all sure of what I would do with my history degree, I knew I had countless options and wanted to have the time and space to explore those options during my undergraduate career.
JF: Tell us about your current job.
I was hired in April 2014 as the Executive Management Assistant at the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, PA. Our organization works with newcomers to the United States (both immigrants and refugees) to assist them in resettling and integrating into their new community, which includes housing placement, job readiness and placement, legal services, and English classes.
My role as Executive Management Assistant is designed to be a nonprofit management training role. The majority of my work is project-based, with the goal of learning how to run a nonprofit organization. Overall, my current projects emphasize the implementation of effective systems, including cash flow management, media inquiries, grant writing and tracking, and professional development for staff. One of my key projects is fundraising – I have been tasked with initiating two giving campaigns for the current fiscal year, which will target both faith-based communities and young adults. Additionally, I serve as the staff liaison to the Board of Trustees, have developed and maintain an internal newsletter for staff, and assist in the development and implementation of the current strategic planning process.
JF: In what ways did your training in history prepare you for this job and how does your training as a history major help you in your day-to-day work?
CB: Honestly, my current job is not what I had in mind when I first chose to major in history, but my degree has ultimately prepared me very well for this role in a variety of ways. At a very pragmatic level, the research and writing skills that I honed as a history major have made writing assignments at work far less daunting. For example, I recently had to summarize the current state of the unaccompanied minors humanitarian crisis and our work in that area for our Board members, and I know that it was the skills I learned in my study of history that enabled me to research, synthesize, and clearly articulate this complex issue within a few hours. More broadly speaking, the way I approach my work – as well as my view of the world more broadly – has been profoundly shaped by my study of history. Despite the fact that I am not working directly in the field of history, the historical content I learned, especially in regards to subaltern history and the variety of narratives present in the historical context, has been particularly useful as I work closely with case managers and attorneys to elevate the narrative of the marginalized populations that we serve.
JF: Any advice–either about the job market or otherwise– for current history majors or those thinking about majoring in history?
CB: Don’t be afraid of a non-linear career path! I think a lot of folks avoid majoring in history (or another branch of the humanities) because they think the career path is limited to teaching or law, for example. I’ve learned that one of the keys to success is studying what you love and fully engaging in it, and that’s when opportunities begin to present themselves. Honestly, my resume looks a bit like a puzzle at this point, but the key is being able to connect all of your experiences and demonstrate their relevance and the transferrable skills you’ve learned. In taking a non-linear path, however, it’s important to fine-tune your “job function” skills as you find your niche. For example, I had wanted to stay as far away from administrative jobs as I could, but once I came to terms with the fact that administration was where my skills were strongest, I was able to fully embrace how I can use those skills in a context of meaningful work for me.
That being said, intern, volunteer, and network as much as you can. From my own experience, that has been the best way to figure out what it is I really enjoy and would want to pursue as a career. Your history degree provides you with strong analytical and writing skills (which all employers love!), so a variety of experiences can help you find your niche in the “field,” whatever that ends up looking like for you. More often than not, people who are already in your field are more than willing to offer advice or help as they are able, so don’t be afraid to ask them how they got involved in their work or about their career path. Informational interviews and networking events are also great ways to connect with people and explore some career options.