Staffer Michael Gawlik recently connected with Marissa Wojcik (BA 2016), who is using her History degree to pursue a career in museums. She's now working at University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation.
What made you major in History?
This is actually a funny story: I came into college in the School of Kinesiology thinking that I wanted to be an athletic trainer, because that is what I had done in high school. As I was moving away to school my mom told me, “I really think you are going to become a history teacher.” I, of course, brushed this off and didn’t think about it again until I took my first Latin American history/anthropology course with Professor David Frye. I fell in love and knew history was the right major for me when I actually enjoyed doing research and writing my papers. Now, although I am not a history teacher in the traditional school sense, I am training volunteers to teach history to school children at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation.
Did you have a favorite class or professor in History?
I thoroughly enjoyed the history colloquium that I took with Professor David Hancock titled History 496: The World of the Ship. I honestly had no idea what the content was going to be. Turns out we studied not only the numerous ways ships dramatically changed the course of history, but also studied how ships affected daily life in port cities. I was able to write the paper I am most proud of, The Jews of Newport, Rhode Island: 1658-1776 in that class. Professor Hancock brought his passion into the classroom in a very approachable way that made the class incredibly enjoyable.
Aside from your studies, what other activities were you involved with on campus?
When I wasn’t spending my free time doing the readings or writing papers for class, I was very involved in Hillel and my sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi. I was on the executive board of many clubs at Hillel and on the executive board of the sorority. I also played club lacrosse my first year!
You recently started working for the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation–what are you doing there?
I am working in their new Visitor Experiences department. The foundation is opening a new space in early November, in which they will give tours and provide an interactive experience with holograms of Holocaust survivors. My main responsibility will be to train the docents in how to use the holographic technology in order to obtain the correct answers from the voice recognition software. These holograms are the first of their kind in the world and so far are only available to see at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. The visitors are able to ask the hologram any question they can think of and, through voice recognition technology and the use of keywords, the holograms respond to the visitor’s questions. A total of fifteen different holograms have stories of everything from being a child hidden in an attic unable to go outside for two years to a fourteen-year old who lied about her age to survive in Auschwitz. It is truly an honor to be able to keep these incredibly important stories alive once the survivors are gone.
How has your experience in History influenced your professional work?
My education in History has opened my eyes to all of the different types of careers available to history majors. I graduated with the hopes of working in museums and was incredibly fortunate to participate in an internship program at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia the summer after graduation. From that internship I found a passion for museum work and being able to teach the public about history through both artifacts and exhibit experiences.
What advice would you give to current History students planning for life after graduation?
Follow your passion. As cliché as that sounds, there is a type of career for everyone and every passion. If you had told me ten years ago that I was going to major in history with a focus on Jewish history and find my professional niche in Jewish Museums and Education Institutions, I probably would have laughed. Use the resources in the History Department to your advantage while you’re still in school, as they can be so helpful in finding a job after graduation. Lastly, create lasting relationships with your professors. You are a student at the greatest university in the world and all of your professors are not only happy to help in any way they can, but they are also a great source of networking to meet people in the career field you choose.
Any favorite memories from your time in History (or at Michigan in general)?
Football games were obviously a favorite part of my time at Michigan. I loved being able to spend time with my friends and sit around our kitchen table while discussing all of our different classes and academic work, figuring out how they all intertwined and connected.