Utah Department of Workforce Services
Where do you currently work?
My official title is Workforce Specialist at the local office of the Department of Workforce services, but if anyone asks, I tell them what I really do, which is work with the Burmese and Karen refugees who live here in Logan, Utah. I recently left a position as Education Director at the American West Heritage Center (AWHC), an outdoor living history museum located in northern Utah (hence the goat-milking photo).
Tell me a bit about your career?
After graduating from WKU, I drove across the country to my homeland of Utah and pretty much rolled out of the car and into the education department of the AWHC. I had interned there the summer before, and when my internship supervisor's position opened up, I sent in my resume and walked right in. For three-and-a-half years I did a lot of unexpected things, such as cow-milking, goat-chasing, putting up fences, setting up tepees, and gardening. I also taught children and families about history in an experiential setting, partnered with the Cultural Resources staff of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, wrote grants, designed museum exhibits and education materials, and picked up some graphic design, marketing, and website maintenance duties.
When I was at Western, I spent a lot of time at the Bowling Green International Center. Since then, I had dreamed of doing cultural education with refugee and immigrant communities. When my current position materialized, I jumped at the opportunity. Right now I've been charged with helping refugee families from Burma find a self-sufficient, solid ground for their community to stand on, and ways to integrate into the larger community in this area. Economic, educational, and medical stabilization are at the top of this list, so over the last couple of weeks I've helped families navigate job applications, government aid, and housing applications. The goal is to guide this particular refugee community to the language skills and other knowledge that they need to help each other and the wider community of Logan.
How has folklore prepared you for your career?
During the spring commencement exercises of 2008, my folklore friends and I got mixed up in line and marched in next to the P.E. masters students in the College of Health and Human Services. "You shook the wrong dean's hand!" Michael Ann exclaimed afterward. But really, if you strip off the connotation that accompanies "Human Services" in a government context, public folklorists really are servants to humanity-- to the folk. As a historically-dressed farmgirl teaching kids how to milk a cow by hand, and now as someone trying to mediate between the culture of the Burmese, the Karen, refugees, state government employees, English pedagogues, and a host of other groups, I am doing what I do because of, and for, the folk. My training at WKU developed the beginnings of a mindset that helps me see cultural difference, realize the effects of those differences, acknowledge that no one has the complete story, and work to present the missing pieces and the common ground in a way that everyone can understand. The cool thing about this mindset is that it can be applied in probably every career out there. You just have to work at showing the people who think that you spent two years learning how to tell stories and folk dance that "folklorist" means much more than that.