Danielle (Lightburn) Dugan
CAS ’00, SED ’08
I’m grateful for all that I learned at BU, both in and out of the classroom. I am currently an advancement officer at Lesley University, where I work closely with senior leadership and with our alumni to solicit major gifts in support of institutional priorities. I can think of four particularly significant encounters I had during my course of study in the History Department.
Written and verbal communication both play an important role in my job, and I reflect often upon the lessons I learned from Professor Sheila McIntyre in my History of the American Revolution class during the spring semester of my freshman year (1997). As I draft letters, donor profiles, or gift proposals, I hear Professor McIntyre’s admonishments – “avoid flabby sentences!” … “use strong verbs!” … “do not overuse the passive voice!” I think I worked harder in her class than in any other during my undergraduate years. I was inspired by Professor McIntyre’s deep commitment to her students and her passion for the study of history. I am grateful for the time that she spent with me in office hours, and for the time that she surely spent preparing lectures and grading our writing assignments. I am a better writer because of what I learned from her.
During my sophomore and junior years, I had the pleasure of taking two courses from Professor Clifford Backman, who also served as my advisor. Our classes were great fun – focused discussion was expected, but he also welcomed good-natured banter. It was in these classes that I learned how to think on my feet and how to discuss serious ideas without taking myself too seriously. Both of these are good skills to have in a career where conversations with donors often depart from my intended path, and where requests for philanthropic commitments are more often met with “no” than with affirmative replies.
In my junior year, I took “Boston’s Public Past” with Professor Jill Lepore. Professor Lepore’s talents as a historian are well known, and the public history focus of this course was a refreshing break from the standard academic approach of many of the other history courses I had taken to that point. More important, though, was the inclusion of guest lecturers in the course. Specifically, I owe her a debt of gratitude for inviting a guest lecture from a park ranger with the Metropolitan District Commission. Fourteen years later, that ranger, Thom Dugan, is now my husband. We celebrate our eighth anniversary today, and we also have a wonderful son Henry, age 9 months. (Attached is a photo of the “Future Terrier” sporting his BU gear at age 6 weeks – cheering for either the BU hockey team in the Beanpot, or the BU women’s synchronized swimming team, which I help coach.)
During my senior year I wrote my honors thesis under your tutelage, examining the role of leadership in the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools, looking at Mayor Kevin White and at Louise Day Hicks as examples. As I headed towards graduation and worked to finish my thesis, I had a job interview with a consulting firm. The principal who interviewed me was intrigued by the title of my thesis, and questioned me extensively about it. As it turned out, he was the son of Mayor White, and was perhaps less than impressed by what I saw as an even-handed critical examination of the subject matter. Needless to say, I did not get that job. However, this was an excellent reminder that the world is small … another important lesson that I have heeded during my career.
Alumni Night Round Up
On October 11, the Undergraduate History Association and the History Department hosted “History Beyond BU,” an event which brought back former BU history majors to discuss how they have used their history degrees in various fields, including business, law, consulting, and medicine. An outstanding success, this event highlighted the important analytical, writing, and conceptual skills that history courses teach students and inspired students to think outside the box in searching for careers that value an education in the liberal arts.
Jana Sico discussed her work as an Investment Analyst at New Providence Asset Management in New York. She told students how having a history major made her interesting to employers, ultimately separating her from the traditional job applicants who all had finance or management degrees. Moreover, she explained that history taught her to think about the development of broad conceptual themes, something essential to succeeding in business. When a student asked about if she felt she was “behind” when she started the job, she told students that even studying finance would not prepare you for the first couple weeks of a new job. She learned the ropes in the same manner, with the same success as those with a business background. She actually excelled because of her ability to write clearly and consider the context, something her history classes always emphasized.
Frances Wade, formerly of White House Records Office and now at a consulting firm for environmental policy, also joined the panel. She discussed the importance of making contacts through internships and offered advice on how to take advantage of networking opportunities. The one lesson that stuck with students in the audience: write thank you notes after an interview or meeting a potential contact. While working at the White House, her knowledge of American history helped her understand the bureaucracy and think about how to organize and categorize records from the presidential libraries. Now as a consultant, she continues to see how her ability to discuss current events from a historical viewpoint allows her to connect with older co-workers.
Craig Heeren, formerly an instructor in the Teach for America program and now an attorney at Wilmer Hale in New York City, articulated how he continues to rely on his research skills to succeed in the courtroom. His first case required him to research shipping laws in the 1790s to establish legal precedents for a particular case. He frequently finds himself immersed in archival work, as he needs to be able to develop an argument and construct support for that argument. Writing a research paper for a history course, he told students, was in fact very similar to arguing a case in the courtroom.
Kyle Pronko, a current medical student at Boston University, talked about how his history background helped him in his medical school interviews. Similar to Jana, he said it made him different, and admissions counselors eagerly recruited him. While they discussed medicine during the interview, the conversation quickly took a turn toward subjects like his favorite Roman emperors. The personal connection he developed through this conversation turned into a concrete offer for medical school. Kyle also noted how in very practical ways, history taught him how to communicate with patients and write cohesive and succinct patient notes on their charts. Those current students with a biology or strictly scientific degree lacked the writing skills needed to thrive in all facets of medicine. He claimed he would be a much better doctor because of the important verbal and written communication skills he acquired while studying history.
Finally, Lucia Marconi, a development officer at Historic New England, discussed how she works for a non-profit organization and focuses on fundraising and developing programs. While the historical knowledge she acquired on New England history drew her to the job, she ultimately finds that her strength in writing proposals and organizing fundraising programs came from her history major. She also stressed the importance of work experience and internships during school for students to learn how to translate skills of the classroom to various professions before they graduate.
These diverse BU history alumni not only showed students the practicality of a history major in the professional world, but they inspired them with their stories of professional success. In the words of Jana Sico, study what you love, and you will not only succeed in the classroom, but you will learn practical stills along the way.