porchlight / american studies at the university of wyoming

Alumni Spotlight: Carly-Ann Anderson

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Carly-Ann Anderson leads the Cultures of College (AMST 1101) freshman seminar course on a tour of downtown Laramie on Oct. 22, 2015.

Carly-Ann Anderson, 28, graduated from the American Studies graduate program in 2012. She was generous enough to reply to a few questions the Porchlight had for this recent alum.

Porchlight: Please describe your current job title, including a brief sketch of your duties:

Carly-Ann: I am the Executive Director for the Alliance for Historic Wyoming, a statewide historic preservation nonprofit dedicated to protecting Wyoming’s historic places and spaces. I work with a board of directors to oversee programming, as well as daily operations of the organization such as keeping our books, planning workshops, answering queries from our constituents, and fundraising. We work statewide on a variety of resources ranging from schools and historic downtowns to trails and archaeological sites, which means a lot of conference calls and travel.

PL: You received a biology degree from UW prior to enrolling in the American Studies MA program. Coming from a science background, what drew you to an ostensibly humanities program?

CA: I ended up in the Cooper House during my senior year of undergraduate. I needed an upper division credit outside of my major, and happened upon a flier for one of Mary Humstone’s field classes. The class was documenting the University Neighborhood District, the residential area directly surrounding the west and south edges of the campus. We wrote architectural descriptions, studied preservation policy, and ultimately helped to author the nomination that listed the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. I felt at home with the topic, enjoyed the graduate students I worked with, and got a thrill from interacting with the public and working to protect an area I enjoyed and found important. It was a major change of pace from working in a windowless lab. (I had worked for Dr. David Fay since my freshman year doing genetics research. I loved the lab work, but needed to be out and about.) But I do remember getting laughs when I plotted the building styles and graphed population data against construction trends.

I wouldn’t trade my biology background. Science education provides critical thinking skills, explains the mechanics of our world, and shapes my outlook. If it were up to me, everyone would be exposed to science, engineering, business, and the humanities to help them develop a well-rounded worldview. I couldn’t pass up the interdisciplinary environment that American Studies (and Environment and Natural Resources) offered. I was able to craft my own degree program, blend nature and culture, and focus on the topics that matter most to me.

PL: What was your master’s thesis topic about?

CA: Energy development in McFadden, Wyoming, and the Rock Creek Valley. I worked for a few years at the High Plains-McFadden Wind Farm site as a field biologist, and didn’t realize at first that the wind farm is built on the site of a former oil field. I started to put together that I was in the middle of a cultural landscape that blended energy extraction, agriculture, transportation history, and many other Wyoming characteristics. I used the former oil company town and the surrounding hills to discuss Wyoming’s changing energy landscape, arguing the importance of documenting natural and historic cultural resources when considering energy siting. The balance required to keep Wyoming looking like the place we know and love, and not just a group of industrial sites, benefits from an interdisciplinary view.

PL: What courses and/or extracurricular activities within the AMST program did you find most helpful in shaping your professional pursuits?

CA: I can’t think of an American Studies or ENR class that didn’t impact my thesis in some way. I obviously participated in a number of Mary Humstone’s historic preservation classes, and they were critical to developing my view of cultural landscapes and the importance of Wyoming’s historic places and spaces. The curriculum contributed directly to my being selected for this position. However, I also appreciated our seminars as they gave students a chance to interact, share ideas, and develop our education with each other. American Studies is lucky to have such a great faculty, and everyone works together to build meaningful connections. Everyone dreads theory week, but I laugh at how it still crops up in my life.

PL: How are historic preservation and the Main Street programs interdisciplinary enterprises?

CA: In addition to being the director for the Alliance for Historic Wyoming, I work part-time as a program coordinator with the Laramie Main Street Alliance. I’m drawn to holistic approaches to problem solving that involve community members, so the Main Street approach of doing economic development through historic preservation excites me. Much like the Alliance, Main Street empowers business owners and community members to stake a claim in their downtowns and enhance them as social and commercial cores. The interdisciplinary approach recognizes that people bring different skills, opinions, and strengths to the table and that the outcome from diverse groups tends to be positive.

PL: Do you have any advice for current or future AMST students preparing to enter the job market?

CA: I would advise students to take advantage of as many opportunities as they can, whether through field courses and internships, or with volunteering. American Studies is great at facilitating these experiences. This will allow you to find what you like, and to gain valuable job skills that you don’t get in a typical classroom. You might be surprised at the variety of skills you’ll use in a job position—verbal and written communications are critical, but there’s more to workplace success than that. Lastly, take advantage of the flexibility and mentoring that American Studies offers. Not every program will work with you to craft a program that suits your interests.

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