Rachel Thompson is currently a Prospect Development Analyst for the University of Illinois Foundation. Rachel took advantage of internship opportunities on and off-campus during her time at the University of Illinois to develop fundraising, networking, social-media communication and marketing skills which have proven invaluable in her position. Rachel loves that she found a position uniting her passion for non-profit fundraising and higher education and the opportunity to stay close to her beloved alma mater.
What is your favorite part about your current position? How did you get to where you are now?
My absolute favorite part about my current position is that I get to work for my alma mater! It feels wonderful being able to serve the university that has taught me so much and that has given me the experience and tools necessary for my career. I also love being able to stay involved on campus by joining various alumni groups, and staying connected to professors and staff at the History Department and throughout the University
As a history major, I was always interested in working in museums and archives. Soon enough, I found myself with internships at three museums. However, I really got a feel for what it’s like to work in the non-profit sector as most all museums are ran by development fundraising. I also always knew that I still wanted to stay in higher education, as I was the History Department’s social media intern and the student affairs intern during my undergrad. Today, I have basically combined my two greatest interests of non-profit fundraising and higher education, as I now work at the University of Illinois Foundation!
What did you most enjoy about being a history major at UIUC?
What I enjoyed most about being a history major at UIUC, were the connections and memories I made with my classmates. I was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta History club and met some of my closest friends who I am still close with today. I am extremely grateful to the History Department at UIUC for providing me with networking and connecting opportunities that still help me in my career to this day. I also joined the Friends of History Committee which gave me the pleasure of connecting with multiple alumni, and finding a great mentor, who is still my mentor today. I also enjoyed the connections I made with the amazing faculty. Transitioning from high school to college can be intimidating, but the faculty of the UIUC History Dept. are some of the most welcoming and friendly faces on campus. I will never forget the great talks, mentoring sessions, and laughs I’ve had with my professors.
What was the best class you took in the history department and why?
The best class I took in the History Dept. was HIST 392: 1960’s US with Professor Schneider. I absolutely loved this class because of all the options us students had when it came to assignments and projects. Depending on your time commitments and interest, you were able to choose with assignments worked best for you. The professors here really do care about your educational success and it shows. For this course, my class hosted a 1960’s style “Teach-In” and we all got to dress up as prominent people from the 1960’s or at least pretend to and make a case for our social movement or person to the audience. Since I wasn’t into this, I took on the role of “organizer” and I was in charge of making invitations, booking a space to host, and creating marketing material. We hosted the Teach-In at the Channing Murray Foundation (The Red Herring) and sent out invites to the department and to the community. We also each had an opportunity to be a “professor” for a day in this course and choose a topic of our liking from the 1960’s and “teach” the class a lesson on that topic. It was amazing being able to research and write about what interests you while also diving into public speaking and presentation skills!
What aspects of your education as a history student have been the most beneficial to you?
As I am now a development analyst, I would have to say that my research and analytical skills I learned within the History Department at UIUC have been the most beneficial to me. Because of what I leaned as an undergraduate in history, I am able to apply these skills in so many aspects of my career. However, I also think that the communication aspect of a history degree is often overlooked. Not only does this degree prepare you to research it prepares you to communicate your findings and to apply it to what you already know. So, I also think that my communication skills really took off after starting my history degree, and this skill is beneficial and crucial to any work environment, as well as outside the work environment
What advice would you give to current history majors about the professional realm?
Some advice I would give to current history majors about the professional realm is that the sky is the limit! Being a history major, you will be able to apply all of the liberal arts skills you’ve learned to any field, whether that be writing, law, research, or even science. When you get out into the professional realm, know how much your degree is worth to your position and your career, and never think that it isn’t sufficient when comparing. Always be open to asking questions, and to finding new ways to improve and grow yourself within your career. Go out of your comfort zone, take courses and forums you may not think you could do, but you really can! And most of all, use what you’ve learned as a History Major! The things you are learning and participating in now will be some of the most rewarding experiences of your life.