“Better Professors, Better Professionals”: Career Diversity Programs in Practice

Jen McPherson (PhD Candidate, University of New Mexico) is a graduate project assistant for the American Historical Association’s Career Diversity Initiative  at the University of New Mexico. Today she shares some important lessons from her work with Erstwhile

For the last three years, the History Department at the University of New Mexico has been one of four pilot programs participating in the American Historical Association’s (AHA) Career Diversity for Historians initiative. At this year’s AHA annual meeting in Denver, I had the opportunity to discuss UNM’s progress, our successes, and more importantly, the chance to reflect on the lessons we have learned.

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At UNM History, our program motto for career diversity is “Better Professors. Better Professionals.” In our attempt to change the culture and structure of doctoral history education at UNM, we have developed a wide array of services and programs under the umbrella of career diversity. These activities include professionalization and teaching workshops, a “Career Pathways” speaker series, “Mellonized” seminars (I’ll talk more about this below), and “open spaces” for students to ask faculty career-related questions.  For PhD students, specifically, we have established a doctoral internship program that allows students the chance to design their own internship with a local or regional organization. During our first year, the department organized an internship fair with invited guests to pitch their organization and internship program. The following year, we increased our focus on student-engagement and established a full-fledged internship program. Now, students are encouraged to collaborate with an organization or center to design an internship that complements their research and professional interests. Students participating in the internship program have gained entrepreneurial skills, experience in outlining project budgets, timelines, and deliverables. Following the completion of an internship, students submit an internship report, present their work to the faculty and university community, and some have blogged for AHA Today about their experience. Since the start of our internship program, students have partnered with the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the Wheels Museum, the National Trails Intermountain Region, Edible Santa Fe, Morocco Worlds News, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, and the Albuquerque Museum.

During the first year of Career Diversity at UNM, we learned that introducing a separate project-based course with a client did not fully create the broad cultural and program changes we were aiming for.  In the months that followed, we turned to our course offerings and wondered how best to integrate the AHA’s “Five Skills” into our seminars.  The questions for us then became: “What would happen if we tweaked one or two assignments?” “What would happen if we emphasized intellectual self-confidence or introduced quantitative literacy into seminar A?” We then realized we were asking ourselves to imagine, what one professor called, a “Mellonized” course. The term “Mellonized” recognizes the support received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It also describes the department’s effort to better prepare graduate students for a broad array of careers by identifying, integrating, and enhancing career diversity skills within our current courses.

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Public Speaking Workshop held at UNM in January 2016, photograph c/o author

Since then our “Mellonizing” Faculty-Student Committee created a faculty resource bank of alt-assignments and exercises that are easily integrated into preexisting courses. Graduate teaching assistants can also use the list when designing undergraduate teaching syllabi. Some examples of alt-assignments proposed by our faculty and students include one-page policy briefs, peer-review critiques, student-designed collaborative projects, community presentations, historiographic videos, community-based learning projects, as well as, writing grants and conference proposals. UNM is at the beginning stages of this endeavor, but through open discussions and departmental surveys, we have learned that many of our courses are already well on their way to becoming Mellonized. A few of these courses can be found on the AHA’s Career Diversity Faculty Resource page.

In everything that UNM Career Diversity for Historians has accomplished (and attempted) these last three years, the biggest lesson we have learned is that our best resource in creating the next phase of graduate history education is and always has been our alumni. Acknowledging and celebrating the diverse careers of our alumni, UNM History will host our first History Graduate Alumni Retreat on February 24-25. This two-day retreat welcomes back History PhDs from the last forty years. We have also invited university administrators from the Graduate School, Center for Teaching and Learning, the Alumni Association, and the UNM Foundation to take part in the retreat. We are asking our alumni to help us imagine and develop a comprehensive alumni network that creates synergy between our alumni, students, and faculty. We are excited to learn from and work with our alumni to implement career diversity across UNM.  With a broad range of careers spanning professions inside and beyond the academy, the knowledge, experience, and insight of our alumni will surely better prepare our department and the University to think broadly about career diversity and its implication for graduate education.

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