Twenty-four-year-old Lauren Harlow never expected to find herself researching and writing about artifacts and historical documents at Historic St. Luke’s Church, the oldest church in Virginia. But, after her experience in Excelsior College’s history curriculum, and with encouragement from her Excelsior professor Robin Campbell, Lauren’s volunteer experience at St. Luke’s has helped her discover her true passion.
“My entire Excelsior experience gave me the confidence to take on new tasks,” Lauren says. “If it’s possible, I would be thrilled to work at St. Luke’s full-time, and Excelsior truly helped me discover that interest.”
Lauren, who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, began her Excelsior career in fall 2015 pursuing an associate degree in liberal arts with a focus in history. She discovered Excelsior through her husband, Andrew, a lieutenant in the United States Navy and an Excelsior alumnus with his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.
“It was a great experience for him, and he spoke very highly of the Excelsior professors and course structure,” Lauren says. “My experience has been much the same. The convenience of Excelsior is great, and I can access educational resources at any time of the day.”
Andrew’s career requires the family to move frequently, so when deciding to pursue higher education, Lauren knew she needed something flexible that would allow her to adhere to her own schedule while receiving a high-quality education that positioned her for success.
“As a Navy family, we completed two moves when I was studying for my associate degree, and we went through a six-month deployment,” Lauren says. “Not having your partner there is certainly one of the hardest things, and it made school challenging. But, I could chat and email my peers and professors at any time and have in-depth conversations. It felt like I was actually in a classroom.”
Lauren, an avid learner and history buff, participated energetically in all her courses. After completing her general education classes, she delved into more specialized courses, learning about the histories of eclectic subjects like pirates and witches. It was within Excelsior’s history curriculum that Lauren was introduced to Historic St. Luke’s Church, a 17th-century historical site in Isle of Wight County. Programs there preserve, promote, and interpret the 100-acre site.
As a part of her public history class, Lauren had to search for a job in the Norfolk area that she found interesting and relevant to her field of study. She came across a position as a volunteer historical research assistant at St. Luke’s, and at first, she didn’t plan on applying. However, her instructor Robin Campbell encouraged her to pursue the opportunity to grow her professional skills and become involved in the community.
Lauren decided to apply to the position and she was accepted. From October 2017 through January 2018, she performed online research to update the church’s artifact database, wrote blog posts for the church’s website, and networked with other professionals and institutions to exchange information and insight.
“There are so many aspects about Historic St. Luke’s Church that I love, but one of the most interesting experiences was learning the remarkable stories behind the historic building,” says Lauren. “When you inspect the church very closely, you realize there were so many decisions, people, and amazing things that led to it standing there, right in front of you.”
Though Lauren hadn’t initially intended on working at St. Luke’s, the skills and knowledge she attained while attending Excelsior allowed her to excel.
“Many skills that I learned through Excelsior transferred very nicely into being a historical research assistant,” Lauren says. “Excelsior gave me skills in critical analysis, writing, problem solving, and communicating, which all helped me perform my job well at St. Luke’s.”
Lauren’s volunteer term has ended at St. Luke’s, but as that chapter of her life comes to an end, another begins. Armed with her associate degree, Lauren will return to Excelsior in fall 2018 to pursue her bachelor’s degree in history, which will allow her to continue to pursue her passion.
“Excelsior has proved to fit my life, no matter what challenges arise,” says Lauren. “My goal is to work as a curator within American history, and I know a bachelor’s degree with Excelsior will provide me with a solid foundation. I’m really looking forward to the next couple years with them.”
Professional Advice from Lauren Harlow
Connect, connect, connect. Whether it be volunteering or testing out an internship, start and start now. Building a network takes effort and it takes time to benefit from that network. The larger your network and more connection you have adds value.
On trends within her industry:
There’s been a major push for a complete digitization of archives, not only to preserve history, but also to make history more accessible to the general public.
On the best books she’s read for her industry:
Any book on the Constitution is going to change your life. “The 5,000 Year Leap” talks about the constitution from the perspective of the founding fathers. I use quotes from it all the time. I would also recommend “Decision in Philadelphia.” In contrast to “The 5,000 Year Leap,” this book gives more of a technical approach to how the Constitution was written.
On time management:
Everyone is different, but what works best for me is writing down all my tasks. I write down everything I have to do in a particular week, break that down into tasks for the day, then down to the hour. The key is to create and stick to a schedule that works for you.
What one thing do you know now that you wish you knew when you were getting your Excelsior degree?
Get plugged into a historical community early. Your experience can benefit the organization as well as your own career in the long run.
Best advice for the business world:
Keep an open mind no matter what line of work you’re in. Consider the other side of the argument before you draw any conclusions.