Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So What CAN You Do With a History Major? Part 47

Be an Administrative and Programming Coordinator for the M.S. Hershey Foundation.

Megan Talley is a 2011 graduate of Messiah College where she double-majored in History and Communications.  I ran into Megan recently and after chatting for a few minutes I realized that she would be a wonderful candidate for this series.  Here is the interview I conducted with her.

JF: Why did you decide to major in history in college?

MT: I wish I had some fascinating story about why I decided to major in history but my reasoning was pretty simple, I loved learning about history. I attribute my love of history to my social studies teachers in high school who were captivating presenters about the past. My favorite field trip in school was to the Gettysburg battlefield, and I always made sure that we stopped at historical sites on family vacations much to my family members’ chagrin. I have always been interested in genealogy and the age old question “what made me into who I am today.". When I entered college, I didn’t comprehend how my major was going to play a role in my future career but I knew that I had to satisfy my craving to learn more about the past. I think this quote from Milton Hershey fits why I chose history perfectly: "I made the decision to go into business [history]…–not for the money, but for the fun of doing something that was interesting" 

JF: Tell us about your current job.

MT: I work as an Administrative and Programming Coordinator at The M.S. Hershey Foundation, a non-profit organization in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  I work predominately at Hershey Gardens. The Foundation was originally established in 1935 by Milton S. Hershey and was responsible for educational opportunities in Hershey, specifically the Hershey Junior College. Eventually the Foundation would assume responsibility for the Hershey Theatre, The Hershey Museum (now The Hershey Story), Hershey Gardens, Hershey Community Archives, and Chocolatetown Square. It was first established for the educational and cultural enrichment of Derry Township residents and visitors and continues to pursue this mission today.

I first became a part of the Foundation during college when I spent two summers working at the Hershey Archives. I learned rather quickly that archival work was not my calling.  After a year of freelance writing for a local newspaper after graduation, I got a job at the Gardens as an Education Assistant and in a year moved into my current position. I am responsible for promoting and reserving bus and organizational group visits to the Gardens, giving historical and horticultural related tours, organizing and supervising a volunteer summer program for youth ages 12- 15 years old, assisting with social media efforts, teaching a variety of programs for field trip students, managing the ticketing software program and typical office managerial duties.

Perhaps the biggest responsibility I have is maintaining relationships with the different groups that the Gardens interacts with ranging from the community, tourists, Gardens members, volunteers, and other Hershey entities that help keep the Gardens “blooming."  Because we are a non-profit organization, the Gardens rely upon the assistance of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (think Hersheypark), as well as a rather large volunteer base.  Making sure the workplace is a harmonious place (despite working under two very different employers) is imperative to the success of the daily operations and upholding Milton Hershey’s legacy.

JF: How do you use the skills you learned as a history major in this job.

MT: There are many skills that I learned from my history classes that have aided me in my current job at the Gardens. History majors know that thinking critically and researching are imperative to historical writing. I often use these same skills when I have to write grants for the Foundation. Anybody who works in a non-profit foundation understands the importance and necessity of grants. Writing well is a skill that is developed in the history field and more broadly a liberal arts education. 

History students are naturally curious and are never afraid to ask questions. Through the act of asking questions you gain knowledge and insight into how things work and how to accomplish them more effectively.  When I first started my job, one of my tasks was to write a monthly report which was distributed to board members. For the financial section, my predecessor told me that the only way to enter in the financial information on the report was a twenty step process that included using a different computer in a different building. I knew there had to be an easier way and researched the process on my own time. I discovered what she was doing could be improved upon and it took me two steps to finish it (to her twenty steps) and a much shorter period of time (no traveling required!).   The way she did it worked for her, but I was curious enough to set out on my own and discover a more effective way. History majors should always stay curious and continually ask questions. That same curiosity about the past that made you a history major will help you to be a superior employee in the workplace. 

Learning about the past taught me to understand more fully the intricacies of life and in return gain a deeper respect and sympathy for humanity.  This objective understanding of people can help in the workplace when dealing with relationships with co-workers as well as other publics that your company/ organization may interact with.  My ability to work well with others and unite co-workers together began with an appreciation for people, both in the present and in the past, which was refined in history classes.

JF: Do you have any tips or advice for history majors on the job market, particularly those who may not want to work in a field that is directly related to history?

MT: My suggestion to history majors is to not put “history careers” into a small square box. Your history major can take you to diverse places and help you to accomplish different things. Confining yourself to the things you “think” you can do with your history major will stifle your potential to explore what is out there with your history skills. When I first started working at the Foundation I was surprised (even empowered) by the amount of people who worked with me that studied history in college.  My supervisor who is the Director of Education for the Theatre, Hershey Story and Hershey Gardens (a fairly large undertaking) received her master’s in American History. The two archivists, as well as the Director of the Hershey Story, and the Collections Manager all have history degrees. The Executive Director of the M.S. Hershey Foundation also majored in history. For a fairly small staff (about 40 full-time staff in all), about one quarter of the employees have a history background and are performing some of the most important jobs in the Foundation.  

Another tip I found to be helpful after graduating was finding a few job sites that offer a look at careers more specifically related to history. Some of my favorites include Preservation Nation as well as the Pennsylvania Museums website.  These sites and sites like them will prove to be invaluable to you. It’s good practice and planning to see what kind of skills and education certain fields of study require, and researching different jobs is a great way to do that. The ability to research (a skill learned and improved in history classes) will always be relevant to your profession, no matter what field you end up in.

Thanks, Megan!