Staffer Michael Gawlik recently connected with Obadiah Brown (BA 2016), who is putting his History degree to work in public affairs.
What have you been up to since graduating?
After graduating, I worked at the US Department of Transportation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I worked as an analyst in acquisitions, where I gained experience in program management and procurement. While at Michigan I explored the idea of applying to a master’s program, and I ultimately decided on public policy. I started at Brown University last June in their Public Affairs program. It has been a great experience, and I’ve enjoyed my time there despite the fast pace of the one-year program. I’ve been able to travel to Southeast Asia with the program as well.
I’m currently working in London with a charity organization called Participatory City, which focuses on scaling up "participatory culture" in one of the city’s boroughs. I recently attended a Michigan alumni event in London, where I met another history major; it was amazing to be able to talk about classes and the department despite being several years apart.
What do you feel was the most valuable part of studying history?
I enjoyed exploring the diverse contexts and disciplines that history offers. I learned how to do research, write concisely, and interview people—all skills that translate to different career paths. The ability to think critically and creatively while being able to solve problems is important. My interaction with history classes and professors helped foster those skills. It was great to have the opportunity to uncover new facts by analyzing documents and to see how what I learned translates to what I currently do.
Is there a particular class or instructor that changed the way you think? Can you tell us more?
Matt Lassiter’s History 497, Global Activism at U-M, and History 329, Crime and Drugs in Modern America, were eye opening for me. Both classes changed my view on what history can offer. I started to think “outside of the box” and see how history interacts with other fields. In the Global Activism class, we delved into the various historical libraries and collections at Michigan. It was nice to have a small class where we had the chance to collaborate with each other in the first Michigan in the World cohort. It was fun working in the archives and seeing the remarkable primary documents. I was previously interested in the Vietnam War, but I was glad to focus on the social aspect, which was influential at the end of the war. Crime and Drugs in Modern America was similar as it gave me the chance to learn how our views on prevalent issues today are shaped by their history.
You're pursuing a master's degree—do you have any advice for current students interested in graduate school?
The best advice I have is to use the resources at Michigan while you’re there. I was unsure of whether or not I wanted to get a master’s degree and what I would study. When I realized I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, I talked to different professors in the history department and [elsewhere] to get their perspective on different programs and possible career paths. They helped provide me with the basis for my choice to apply to a public policy program, which I think complements my undergraduate degrees. A degree in history offers a lot of skills that can be used for graduate school, so I think it’s important to be open to exploring different options and career paths that come with a specific degree.
Any favorite memories from your time in History (or at Michigan in general)?
Global Activism at U-M provided a lot of cool opportunities. The fiftieth anniversary of the Vietnam War teach-ins occurred at the same time as our class and it was nice to be there and take part in related events. I enjoyed learning that Michigan was the location of the first teach-in for the war, and I had the chance to meet and interview different people from the time period including Al Haber, Tom Hayden, and Bill Ayers. I also enjoyed speaking at History Commencement and having the chance to work with Anne Berg and John Carson. My favorite memory from Michigan as a whole would be football games in the Big House, especially the Under the Lights Notre Dame game.