Alumni Reflections

a student standing outside the blues hall of fame
a student standing outside the blues hall of fame

What Did You Do With a Rhodes History Major?

Katie Jakovich '16, Information Studies
"I graduated May of 2016 from Rhodes with my degree in History, and I start graduate school January of 2017 at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information to earn my Master of Science in Information Studies. I was selected by the School of Information to receive one of their 2017-2018 Endowed Presidential Scholarships. They only give out about 10 of these scholarships a year. I believe that I am in this incredible position of being at my dream graduate school and receiving this scholarship at least partly due to the amazing History Department at Rhodes. The professors at Rhodes were so supportive, and continue to be, and taught me so much not only about history, but also about how to be the best writer, student, and person I could be. So thank you so much to every professor in the Department with whom I ever took a class - you truly are making dreams come true."

Matt Hicks ’15, Public History, Cotton Museum of Memphis
“My history degree from Rhodes has helped me grapple with tough questions in my professional life as the manager of the Memphis Cotton Museum. At Rhodes, I developed analytical skills that I use every day in my work. To be able to identify cause and effect and historical trends have been invaluable skills. I always know to ask, "Who's telling this story, and why?”

Jennifer Beckley ’98, Law Librarian, formerly worked in advertising
“More than anything, my history degree from Rhodes trained me how to think and effectively construct rational, well thought out and prepared arguments. A large part of this was being able to research effectively and look at problems/questions in different ways. Being able to do this is rarer than I ever could have imagined. I ended up going into advertising a couple years after graduation -- definitely not an industry I thought I would end up in with a history degree. More than anything, I realized that my degree from Rhodes prepared me to be adaptable to a wide variety of situations. Because I knew the process of how to educate myself on any topic, I knew I was able to handle any and all requests that came my way.”

Janee Bonner ’86, Politics, Congressional Staffer
“My professional career was in Washington DC – I served as a legislative assistant for six years for a Member of Congress from Florida; following his retirement, I served for six years as a PAC director and lobbyist for a medical trade association in Washington.  My history degree – much like my overall liberal arts experience at Rhodes – provided me with a strong background in the historical aspect and political background on the work that my offices were conducting.”

John Mehrling ‘64, Business, Maritime Chartering
“After graduation from Rhodes, I worked in the maritime industry for more than 30 years - primarily as a Chartering Broker for a number of steamship companies.  The knowledge of the histories, geographies, cultures, and traditions of the counties with which I worked played an important part in my ability to deal with local residents.  But the most important benefit of my liberal arts education at Rhodes was the broad spectrum knowledge to which I was exposed - science, religion, literature, etc. It imparted a desire to continue learning throughout my life.” 

Jim Gardner ’72, Public History, National Archives and Records Administration
“I went from being a Rhodes history major to earning a doctorate in history at Vanderbilt to working at a series of national institutions--the American Association for State and Local History, the American Historical Association, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and now the National Archives, where I am the Executive for Legislative Archives, Presidential Libraries, and Museum Services. In other words, I’ve had a dream career outside the academy and Rhodes provided the foundation for success.”

Michael Castellarin, MD ’11, Family Physician, Austin, TX
“I took a fairly untraditional route and went to medical school after graduating with a history major. I never regret having majored in history though. History asks you to think critically about things and to consider the world from different perspectives which can only be a good thing regardless of what you go into.” 

Mark Allen Wilson ’06, Independent Filmmaker
“The history major at Rhodes has been a guiding light to my professional career in the film industry. The business of Hollywood can be very clinical, exacting, and impersonal. That’s why I’ve always gravitated towards independent cinema and work that is considered “challenging” and “controversial”. Telling compelling stories has been at the heart of my endeavors as a filmmaker, and my experiences as a Rhodes history major has been at the crux of my decisions at what projects to join and stories to tell. The fact that, at Rhodes, I could engage in thoughtful inquiry beyond the classroom experience has taught me there is always more to learn, more to think about, and more to search out in my life. I’ve learned that these professors were not solely trying to teach factual lessons as much as they were trying to empower my thinking and experiences. The history major has provided me with a framework to continue to push boundaries, ask difficult questions, and seek out challenging answers.” 

Duvall Osteen ’07, Literary Agent, Aragi, Inc.
“My History professors all encouraged a critical, close reading of texts, combined with broad thinking about cultural narratives. This taught me to become a more engaged reader. I spent several years as a historical researcher applying those skills to study blues music and cultural history of the American South. When I was ready to transition into a new career path, those skills continued to be a huge asset. I am now a literary agent, and spend my days working closely with texts - academic, narrative nonfiction, and fiction. I attribute my ability to read closely, quickly, and critically entirely to my time spent in the History Department. In addition to pouring over books and essays, we learned how to identify the core of an argument, and how to have thoughtful conversations about writing and methodology."

Avery Polacek ’09, Non-Profit Management, El Polmar Foundation
 “I am the Grants Manager and Director of Compliance for El Pomar Foundation, a foundation that provides grant funding to nonprofits across the state of Colorado.  While I'm not currently working in a "history related" field, as a Rhodes history major I developed 2 vital skills that I use daily in my career - the ability to write and the ability to think critically.  I write correspondence, articles, and memos daily, and I credit my Rhodes history degree and several papers for Professor Jackson with the ability to do so clearly and concisely.  I also feel like my degree equipped me with the ability to examine a problem critically and develop a well-rounded solution.  A history degree from Rhodes is a solid base and great springboard into the professional world, no matter what career path you pursue.”

Houston Parks ’71, Attorney, Parks Snyder PLLC
“My continued study of history without question prepares me to be a better attorney.  History keeps alive my vigorous interest in human affairs, illustrates human achievement and foibles, shows the paths by which society arrived at today, and richly suggests new directions society may take in the future… Each time I give my all to a particular legal client, each time I feel that my knowledge, experience, and compassion have come together to genuinely help someone else to resolve a problem or attain a goal, I find infinite satisfaction. and I feel I have given my all to life itself.  And, it takes all of my knowledge and experience, including my own humble understanding of history, for me to achieve this height of fulfillment.”

Cassaundra Bails-McLeod '12, Non-Profit Management and Urban Education
I have had the luxury of applying my history degree to many different career pathways since graduation. The tools that I have learned from the program have assisted me when working in operations and program design in public education organizations in Chicago. The ability to analyze a range of information throughout a period of time and an appreciation of the culture and attitudes of societies other than my own are two skills that have allowed me to succeed in the various career opportunities that I have experienced. On a more personal side, having a background in history helps me to navigate difficult questions around current events happening across the world by understanding their origins and developments over time.