What do I do with a History Major?

Posted on May 13th, 2020 by

What do I do with a History major?

Spring 2020

A group of Gustavus history alumni panelists were scheduled to arrive on campus this spring to share their experiences as history majors with current students.  One goal of the panel was to share the numerous career paths possible with a history major and what can happen after graduation.  Another was to help current students better navigate and engage in their undergraduate studies. Since our alums couldn’t visit campus this spring, we are bringing their responses to you (from survey questions we asked them) in the form of a blog.  As you can see from their responses, a history major is not only valuable while at Gustavus but can lead to unique career paths after you leave.

One featured alum is Paul Anderson who graduated from Gustavus in 2007 with Degrees in History, Studio Art and Scandinavian Studies.  Paul is employed at Little and Company, a branding company in Minneapolis.

Our other featured alum is Allie Skjerven Boyd who graduated from Gustavus in 2010 with degrees in history and Russian.  Allie works as a Senior Analytics and Reporting Analyst in the Sales Operation Department at Merrill Corporation.

Their panel discussion was going to include information about what their career journeys have been like since they graduated.  We wanted to blog about their experiences to remind current majors as well as graduating majors that a degree in History provides a rich and important basis for critical thinking, problem-solving, inquiry, writing, and research.  These alumni explain why a History major at Gustavus helped pave the way for their current careers!

Question One: What do you remember most about being a History major at Gustavus Adolphus College?

P: The professors. How passionate they were about the subjects they were teaching and history in general. How much they cared about those in their classes; not only their wellbeing as students but as people in general.

A: I remember that I had the best History 200 class! I didn’t originally set out to be a History major but after taking a 300-level class my freshman year, I knew I had to double-major in History and Russian Studies. All of the History profs were stellar, with expertise that was both broad and deep. I loved all the different paths that History majors were on and how the History profs didn’t push one career path or another.

Question Two: What did you do after you left Gustavus?

P: I initially worked in sales for a large corporation (Thomson Reuters), and then worked briefly in the study abroad industry. Following that I worked for the US Federal Government (The Department of Veterans Affairs) for over 5 years, and for the last 6 plus years have been working in the creative industry at various advertising and design agencies.

A: I had planned to go to graduate school for an MA in Russian & Eastern European Studies but, based on finances, made the decision not to. Wanting to live independently and also needing to pay back my student loans, I decided to enter the workforce. The country was still recovering from the 2008-2009 recession and entering the workforce vs. assuming additional student loan debt was the right decision for me at the time. I married my husband Geoff in 2014 and we bought our first house that same year. In 2019, we sold our first home and began building another, which was just recently completed in March of 2020. Outside of work, we travel as much as we can (England, Florida, South Carolina, etc.), spend a lot of time at local car shows in our 1961 Chevy pickup, and I try to manage my vegetable garden (although most of the time it manages me.) We currently live in Lake Elmo, MN with our cat Dash.

Question Three: Can you describe the career path you took after graduation to where you are now?

P: Lots of hard work, determination, and networking.

A: In 2010, right after I graduated, I started contract work at Nestle USA as an administrative assistant for their sales team that calls on Target. Basically, my team was responsible for any Nestle product sold in Target stores nationwide. I was officially hired in 2011 and added Dollar (Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc.) and Club (Costco, Sam’s, etc.) to my support responsibilities. I realized while I was an admin that I was very good at gathering and analyzing data, and made it a point to make this a part of my administrative work. In 2013 I was promoted to Sales Business Analyst for the Target Confections desk (SweeTarts, Nerds, Butterfinger, Crunch, etc.), helping to manage roughly $60MM worth of revenue. In 2016 I was promoted to Junior Account Manager for the Target Pizza and Ice Cream desk (DiGiorno, Jack’s, Edy’s/Dreyer’s, Haagen-Dazs, etc.), helping to manage roughly $150MM worth of revenue. In 2017, after 7 years in the consumer-packaged goods industry, I decided to change industries and work for Merrill Corporation as a Senior Sales Planning Analyst for their transaction & compliance business. In 2018, I realized I missed the consumer-packaged goods industry and went to work for Clorox as a Senior Sales Analyst on the Target team (working on the Burt’s Bees, Brita, Glad, and Fresh Step brands.) Though I was happy to be back in the CPG industry, the Minneapolis Clorox office was not a good cultural fit for me and I realized that I missed the heavy analysis and freedom to explore information that I was doing at Merrill. I returned to Merrill (recently rebranded to Datasite) in August of 2019 as a Senior Sales Analytics & Reporting Analyst, working on their virtual data room business and doing various types of analysis (pricing, revenue, recession), compensation plan management, and ad-hoc projects that are visible at the VP- and C-level.

Question Four: How did your History major at Gustavus prepare you for what you are doing now?

P: Critical thinking, strong communication skills, managing multiple assignments at one time — all are skills I use in my professional life are skills that were essential as a history major at GAC.

A: My History major taught me how to efficiently gather and analyze data, and how to use that data to tell a story which can then influence business decisions. Having this kind of training is critical in moving from “what happened?” to “why did it happen?” to “what’s next?” Folks in the corporate world would generally scoff at my humanities degree until I told them I used it almost every day to make decisions about what data sources are reliable enough for use, how to fill the holes in the data source through research, and how to comprehensively aggregate tons of information into a usable insight. It has been incredibly useful, not only for the reasons I just listed, but also because having a non-business or non-scientific perspective in the corporate world is rare and affords you the ability to look at a problem or a decision in a different way the most of your colleagues are trained to do.

Question Five: What advice would you give a current History major at Gustavus?

P: Work hard, stay determined on what your goals are, be nice to people

A: Explore what types of careers are the best fit for you right now – you will never have as much freedom to explore paths as you do now, and it’s incredibly hard to pivot careers the further along you get into them. While noble pursuits, don’t think that having a History degree limits you to a job as a lawyer (or a museum curator or an archivist or a government clerk) just because that’s a “typical” path for a History major. Learn about yourself – your skill sets, what types of work are fulfilling to you, how you like to work, who you like to work with, what “success” looks like to you – and explore paths that dovetail those needs with your formal historical training. Shadow people that work in these fields – your network is bigger than you think, tapping into it just takes some practice. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who you think can help you – most people are willing to give advice or talk over decisions, and if they aren’t the right person to speak with, they generally know someone who is. The world needs History majors and their particular brand of worldview; thinking critically about all the information/data we are pummeled with on any given day is more important now than ever.

 


3 Comments

  1. Gregory Kaster says:

    We are so proud of our History alums! Thank you, Allie and Paul, and all the best from the History Profs.

  2. Kathleen Keller says:

    These words are so appreciated and so helpful for our students. Thank you, Paul and Allie.

  3. Russ Walker says:

    I am fortunate to be a team mate of Allie’s at Datasite and can attest to the impact her analytical abilities bring to the business world. Moral of the story to me is we should hire more History majors!

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