Working 'in' history: ASU graduate student makes a career change to work in her field
It’s never too late to follow your dreams. This is something people are told all the time, but it is especially true for Arizona State University graduate history student Amy Evenson.
Evenson always loved history and was fascinated by the stories her family members would tell her about the past.
“Having grown up with my great-grandmother’s stories of working as a cook in a logging camp and my grandfather having to take a horse-drawn sleigh to school in the winter because of how remote their house was to town made history very tangible and approachable for me,” Evenson said. “History was about exciting stories, not dusty old books.”
She attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and majored in history and mass communication for her undergraduate degrees. After graduating, she applied and was accepted into Arizona State University’s PhD program for history, but didn’t end up going.
“I was offered what I thought to be a dream job as a corporate photographer for a Fortune 500 company, so I put my history aspirations on hold,” Evenson said.
Eighteen years later, she was laid off from her marketing job due to the coronavirus pandemic and realized she wanted to pursue history as a career. She found that ASU was still a good fit for her, so she enrolled as an online master’s degree student.
“When I finished my undergrad, I was so excited to be admitted to ASU’s history department and often thought about what my life would have looked like if I had pursued graduate school at that point,” Evenson said. “But life happened and priorities changed, but I still really missed studying history and regretted not pursuing my dreams. ASU’s online program offered me an opportunity to finally study history and also change the course of my career.”
Evenson learned how to hone her skills in critical analysis, which gave her the ability to put specific events into a broader historical context.
“It has also taught me how to read ‘against the grain’ of a specific record to identify gaps in the historical narrative,” Evenson said. “From a community outreach position, my work at ASU has helped me to find ways to make history accessible and relevant to a large audience.”
She started two new jobs during the first year of the history program: one as a marketing representative for the city of Austin, Texas, in the division of museums and cultural centers and another as an archive assistant for the Archives of the Episcopal Church.
“The biggest thing that led me to finding jobs in the historical field was having a good network of personal and professional contacts who knew that I was trying to change careers,” Evenson said. “Both positions came from acquaintances casually mentioning that they knew of a place that was hiring.”
For the city of Austin, she works with the museum sites on website design, social media campaigns, community outreach and engagement, and developing programs and research plans to reinterpret and recontextualize the site’s history to be more inclusive of underrepresented historical narratives.
Her job in the archives is to maintain a collection of parish histories, publications, personal papers and one of the largest prayer book collections in the U.S. She also helps with cataloging collections, identifying and researching items that are in need of appraisal or conservation and researching topic inquiries from the public.
“Both jobs challenge me in different ways and give me opportunities to apply my historical knowledge to my work,” Evenson said. “I actually enjoy going to work every day and look forward to the programs and projects we have coming up in the future at both jobs.”
Matthew Casey-Pariseault, clinical assistant professor of history and associate director of online programs for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, was thrilled and not at all surprised when he learned of Evenson’s jobs.
“Amy is a gifted researcher, writer and thinker,” Casey-Pariseault said. “Her work in my Latin American history seminars has been truly inspiring.”
She says that networking within her field of interest was one big takeaway she has gotten from her time in the program and encourages other students to do the same.
“While it is really easy to hyperfocus on your own research, your network of contacts and colleagues is what’s going to give you mobility in the profession itself,” Evenson said. “Join professional organizations and social media groups that specialize in your areas of interest and research.”
Evenson prioritized scheduling in study and writing time into her busy days. She usually works between 50 and 55 hours a week at her jobs, then attends school on top of that. But she always makes sure to find time to relax on Saturday mornings.
“I never thought I’d have the positions that I do, or that I would be ‘doing history’ professionally,” Evenson said. “It’s really cool that after a very long hiatus, I am finally studying history at ASU.”
She is on track to graduate with her master’s degree in history in spring 2022.