Kristen currently work as the Illinois Distributed Museum Coordinator in the University of Illinois Archives. The Illinois Distributed Museum (IDM) tells the stories of innovation that have taken place on campus. The majority of the museum's content is online at its website, but there are also objects, documents, art, and buildings around campus that the website leads people to discover how these objects are connected to innovations. At her job, Kristen gets to do a little bit of everything! She meets with professors and campus communicators to discuss historic and recent innovations, works with history student interns and volunteers from across campus to research and write content, markets the IDM, including marketing on social media, works with the Library Web Team to enhance the website and go to conferences and researches new trends and standards for digital learning, digital museum components and museum best practices.
What is your favorite part about your current position? How did you get to where you are now?
I love that I get to learn about so many different fields of study. I have always loved learning about everything and anything and greatly enjoyed school. I wanted a career where I could continue to learn new things everyday and I thought working in museums would be the perfect way to do that. In my position I get to learn about art, engineering, business, physical and applied sciences, and the humanities. I also really love stories and learning about people, which is why I chose to study history. It is so amazing all the different accomplishments people have done. It’s also interesting to see how people overcame obstacles and how sometimes they could not overcome those obstacles but went on to do something else.
After I graduated with my B.A. in history and anthropology I got my Master’s of Education. My current position was the first full time position in my field. It did take a little longer than I was expecting to get this job, mostly because I thought the hiring practices in the museum field would be quick like the internship process. Instead I found out it often takes at least 3 months to go through the hiring process. I did end up working as a preschool teacher for a couple of months between graduating and finding this job. My time in the history department helped me to get this job. I worked with Dr. Fred Hoxie as an undergraduate researcher for his book University of Illinois: Engine of Innovation, which helped me explore the ideas of what innovation means. I also worked with Dr. John Randolph with SourceLab which gave me a great understanding for how to share history online and how to research historical sources that you don’t have all the information for. I use the skills I learned from these two experiences everyday.
What did you most enjoy about being a history major at the University of Illinois?
I loved all of my classes and the professors here. They were always engaging with the content, even if it was not my favorite subject or time period to study. It really helped my appreciation for those who lived in the past grow as well as my respect and understanding for people living today. This program helped me realize how complex history and people are. It really made me appreciate that when we study the past we are talking about events that people like you and me had to live through. They had their own worries and daily activities that they went about doing and it is interesting to see how the social, cultural, economic and political environments around them shaped who they are, and then to think about how those spheres shape us today.
What was the best class you took in the history department and why?
I greatly enjoyed my Hist 200 course, Gender & Crime in the Early Modern World, with Dr. Dana Rabin. That was the first course where I really got to know everyone in the class well and where we had open discussions where we could help each other grow. I also greatly enjoyed our final project where we looked at court records to help us understand what was important to people at the time and how society was structured. I did similar papers looking at court records throughout the rest of my undergraduate career.
What aspects of your education as a history student have been the most beneficial to you?
Learning good research skills and critical thinking have been some of the most helpful aspects for my current position. I am constantly researching, whether it’s for content for an exhibit, trying to find innovations that the museum needs to highlight, or to learn more about the trends in the field, there is always a need for good research. I have to judge the sources and I often have to fact check. Right now, we are only focusing on innovations that took place on campus or while the innovator was employed by the university or attending the university. Sometimes people will say that an innovation took place on campus but it actually did not take place on campus, the innovator just worked here either before or after the innovation. While these are great for maybe future exhibits when we can expand, it does not fit our scope right now so we have to wait have those exhibits published. Another important skill is thinking about the innovators themselves and understanding where people come from. Learning to think about who these innovators were, what activities may have inspired them to create something, or what might have caused them to not be able to work on their innovations is a great skill for understanding how innovation comes about and for having empathy and understanding of these innovators. These skills can also be applied to living people so no matter what field you end up in, it is important to think about why people may be acting a certain way and how you can interact with them in a productive way.
What advice would you give to current history majors about the professional realm?
Say yes to opportunities that present themselves now, even if you think it only fits the periphery of your career goals. I would not be where I am today if I didn’t take the opportunity to do research for Dr. Hoxie or get involved with the SourceLab initiative. You should still maintain a balanced life so you don’t overload your schedule, but if something seems interesting to you and you have time to take the opportunity, then go for it. It will likely help you make good connections and build skills you can take into your future careers.
Also don’t be afraid to ask for help in navigating the professional world. Many of your professors would be happy to talk to you about future career options and how the skills you are learning in their classes can be applied to these careers. They may also offer to connect you to people who are in the field. Take that opportunity to make those connections. The people I know (and myself) would all be willing to meet with students and share their experiences and tips on how to get into the field you want to be in. It may feel awkward at first but if people offer their time, they really do want to help.