As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My dream was to be a senator or governor. Since then, I’ve found that nonprofit work hits closer to home for me. What I enjoy most is working behind the scenes on big projects, which allows me to serve my community and challenge myself. I like to set big goals, and always have. I’m a firm believer in hard work – there are no miracles in this world. But hard work can feel miraculous when you have the right team around you.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
The most transformative moments in my undergraduate education were outside the classroom. I led a political organization on campus and was able to hone my skills as a manager and organizer. We ran highly successful voter registration and “get out the vote” drives. I am proud of this work and learned a lot about how to motivate a team to tackle big challenges.
You are the Executive Director of the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Tell us more about the mission of this organization, and how you became involved in this work.
It is a fantastic organization. When I was 14 years old, I started volunteering for ACHS. I was fascinated by the millions – literally millions – of historic artifacts in the historical society’s collection. This includes everything from Native American arrowheads to artillery shells from the Battle of Gettysburg and an original program from the Gettysburg Address. All of these items were stored in a badly deteriorating Victorian home with no climate control or fire protection. I worked at ACHS through college as a part-time employee, then my predecessor left to take another position just a few weeks after I graduated. Since I had been assisting him with different management-related tasks, I decided to stay on for a few months – and I really liked it, so I became the permanent ED late in 2019. In 2020, we launched a capital campaign to raise $5 million and build a new facility. Things took off when Ken Burns recorded a video endorsement for us. We ended up more than doubling our goal ($12 million) and building a debt-free museum and history center that exceeded our wildest dreams of what we thought was possible. This was all done in less than three years. The museum – Gettysburg Beyond the Battle
– tells the 300+ year story of Gettysburg with a heavy emphasis on the horrific events of July 1863, when the Civil War’s bloodiest battle unfolded on our community’s doorstep. Our museum team used light, authentic sound, and amazing special effects technology to bring these stories to life. And, we had some great help from folks like Ken Burns, actor Stephen Lang (who narrated the museum’s short films), and author Jeff Shaara.
What inspired your career path, and what do you find most fulfilling about the work you do?
From an early age I was fascinated by history and storytelling. I think this came from my dad, a small-town journalist who chased after important stories that mattered to him and his community. He also landed some pretty big interviews, from United States presidents to Muhammad Ali. He was confident, persistent, and unrelentingly positive. I was devastated when my mother and I lost him to Alzheimer’s Disease while I was in college. Then my grandfather, a farmer and carpenter, stepped in to fill a hole in my life. From him, I’m sure I inherited my organizational skills and perfectionism, and a heaping dose of stubbornness.
Of course, I’ve also been inspired by the landscape around me – a town, battlefield, and community where some of the most significant episodes in our history unfolded. It’s humbling.
Above all, telling stories that matter to people is extremely important to me. So when I took this job, I wanted to make sure the story of my community would be safe and accessible to all. I never imagined that our project would take off so quickly, allowing me to lead a team that has designed and created from scratch an exceptional experience for visitors and community members to enjoy. Our doors open to the public in April.
What role has your liberal arts education played in the development of your career? Why do you think a well-rounded arts and sciences education are important in today’s society?
An open exchange of ideas, through the liberal arts and sciences, is critical. My undergraduate education exposed me to new perspectives and challenged me to think deeper about important issues that we face nationally and globally, but also at the community level. A well-rounded education also promotes empathy and understanding, qualities that are often lacking in our society today. Through my education, I’ve come to understand that informed decision-making and thoughtful leadership start with collaboration and the sharing of multiple viewpoints. I enjoy when my staff has a respectful but passionate exchange about a plan or project. This is a healthy process that allows the best ideas to rise to the top. We need vigorous debate in our society – a free and open exchange of ideas. This can be uncomfortable, but it should be. We need to stop nurturing the idea that uniformity of thought is a good thing. We need to learn from each other and see the good in each other.
Phi Beta Kappa’s motto is “the love of learning is the guide of life,” and we are dedicated to life-long learning. What do you want to learn next?
I’d like to read more philosophy, and lately I’ve become interested in the study of death and the potential of an afterlife. I consider myself agnostic but am fascinated by the ongoing conversation between great thinkers – both atheist and religious. I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of Sam Harris’s work, but want to expand deeper into the body of philosophical literature that he often references. There are clearly very smart people on all sides of this debate, and I will continue to enjoy listening.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
“Don’t do anything important when you’re angry.” (I’m still working on it). I’ve always been impatient and restless. I act quickly on my emotions – sometimes too quickly. When I was younger, I enjoyed helping my grandfather with his projects – painting, gardening, cleaning, washing the car, etc. He always worked slowly and deliberately, and it drove me crazy. My grandfather would often tease me with Italian slang he had learned during his own childhood – “aspett!” (wait!), “gabbadost!” (hard head!). I hear him in my head when I’m getting angry or impatient, and I try to smile and let the anger out in other ways. He died last year at 94, and I really miss him.
What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
My work life has been so busy that I don’t find as much time for reading as I’d like to. But I’m on the road often and I listen to a few podcasts: The Problem with Jon Stewart (an excellent in-depth commentary on current issues), and The Argument with Jane Coaston (which has now ended – I am very sad about this). I love informed debates between smart people who disagree. I don’t watch much television, but I’m a huge fan of The West Wing and I try to catch Real Time with Bill Maher every weekend. I don’t watch much history because I get enough of that at work!
Published on April 4, 2023.