1. Why did you decide to pursue an M.A. in History?
In 2002, I was working as a National Park Service guide at Arlington House: The Robert E. Lee Memorial and was looking for a way to advance my career. I came to be interested in George Mason's M.A. program because it offered a combination of traditional history study and new media exploration. This dual-emphasis seemed like a perfect match for my background. I had majored in history at Davidson College and had dabbled in website development, through a personal website (which it now pains me to remember!) and through my job at Arlington House. So, the idea of combining those interests in one program was very appealing. I also felt that developing web publishing/development skills in a real academic program, rather than on my own would serve me well professionally. I'm happy to say that turned out to be true! The Mason M.A. program turned out to be my launch pad into my job at in the Digital Media department at WETA, where I develop content for our station website and manage our local history blog, Boundary Stones (http://blogs.weta.org/boundarystones)
2. What was your most rewarding class? Why?
I'm going to cheat a little bit and mention a few classes that I found rewarding. I think that's appropriate since for me the program was a dual experience in learning (1) how to think, write & ask questions like a historian and (2) how to present and interpret history online.
As far as #1 is concerned, I was privileged to take two courses from Larry Levine - Autobiography and American Cultural History. Those courses -- and particularly our class discussions -- taught me to be more inquisitive when engaging the voices of the past and look beyond simplistic, linear interpretations of history. Even today, as I try to coach interns who work on our blog at WETA, I find myself channeling Dr. Levine frequently, "Culture does not move in one direction at once." (No doubt he said it more eloquently than that but it's a lesson that has stuck with me.)
I also found the Clio Wired courses to be extremely rewarding. Though I had some web publishing experience on my own, I really enjoyed expanding on those skills under the tutelage of Roy Rosenzweig and Paula Petrik. It was extremely satisfying to create websites and watch the history come alive in a way that it didn't in a regular term paper. (There were, of course, some missteps along the way such as the edible play-dough 3-D rendition of the National Mall, which I built for Dr. Petrik's Interactive Historical Maps class. But hopefully the resulting ant problem in Robinson Hall has been resolved.)
3. How has the M.A. program helped you with your career or your personal interests?
As mentioned above, I think the M.A. program was a launch pad for my career. I don't think I would have been competitive for my first job at WETA without my Mason degree. But beyond the degree itself, I grew as a critical thinker and problem solver during my time in the program. Those skills continue to serve me well -- even in the aspects of my job and life that aren't directly related to history. (Why won't this website display correctly?! Okay, let's try a new approach...)
4. Any career advice you would give to students in the program?
Don't be discouraged by those who question the usefulness of an advanced degree in history. Asking good questions, knowing how to conduct research and formulating arguments are crucial skills to develop, and are applicable to many different career paths. So, too, are the critical thinking and writing skills you will hone in the M.A. program.
5. Tell us something that people would be surprised to know about you.
I own every Washington Nationals bobblehead and gnome figurine ever given out by the team. (Upwards of 50!)