Business & Tech

After earning his M.Div. and spending thirteen years in the ministry of the United Methodist Church, Bob Rector ’66 went to work at Western Sintering Company, Inc., becoming a Certified Powder Metal Technologist and teaching powder metallurgy to design engineers and at colleges and tech schools throughout the Northwest. He quipps that he effectively became an engineer by memorizing “The average thermal expansion of basic steel is three millionths per inch per degree; one degree equals .017 per inch; and one Micron is one millionth of a meter.”  Bob writes, “The most rewarding thing in my career was working closely with very intelligent top engineers in hundreds of big companies.”  History – what he calls his “fast track to wisdom” – has continued to be a part of his life, informing his reading habits and his view of current events.  He reminds History majors considering a career in business of the value of “learning basic psychology and knowing the accounting cycle,” as well as continuing to read widely. 

For Terry Parsons ’67, participation in an exchange program in the Netherlands led to a career a financial firm trading silver and currencies, which allowed him to travel all over the globe for a rewarding three-and-a-half decades. “My History major,” Terry writes, “helped me appreciate the places I visited and the financial world history I was working in,” and well as making me “a well-rounded person.”

Gordon Cooke ’67 earned an MBA from the University of Oregon and embarked on a successful career in advertising and marketing, working first at Bon Marché, Macy’s, and Bloomingdales before taking positions as President of Interative Merchandizing at Time-Warner and CEO of DM Management, a publicly-traded retail direct marketing company.  He continues to serve on the Boards of Directors of several apparel companies and to do consulting work, while indulging the love of travel that has taken him to over 90 countries.  Gordon writes, “The biggest impact the study of history had on my career was the knowledge I gained as to how to approach and analyze problems, issues and challenges. I find that reviewing past events has provided me with significant insight into how to make more effective business decisions, as well as a process as to how to approach them.” He notes that studying history also taught him “to ‘think outside the box’ and converse effectively with people from different professions and walks of life.”

After a stint teaching in Saipan through the Peace Corps, David Crutcher ’68 earned a master’s in Public Administration at the University of Washington and worked for county and city governments in Washington and Oregon before moving into marketing and going to work for Deloitte and the State of New Jersey, where he “helped pave the way for the smart use of web and social media.”  In all of these positions, David has drawn upon the strong critical thinking and communications skills he gained at UPS, and notes that studying history helps to “hone a perspective that understanding that what came before us is essential to addressing the challenges of the future.”

Jim Wilcox ’81 transferred from WSU to UPS in 1957, and graduated in 1981 after a hiatus spent working in his family’s business, Wilcox Family Farms.  He writes, “I was privileged to study under Profs. Lyle Schelmidine and Warren Tomlinson, both giants in their fields, and was a classmate of Walter Lowrie (later Prof. of History).”  Studying history, Jim says, “gave me a basis for understanding how world events unfold. It also gave me an intellectual link to folks I interacted with, outside of my business activities. I believe a liberal education provides a strong basis for one’s life work. In my experience what one studied in school is less important than what one does with it after graduation. In hiring folks I always looked at performance, rather than prior course of study.”

Stan Sorensen ’86 worked in admissions at UPS for four years after graduation, then went to work as a recruiter at Microsoft and has now spent more than two decades in the technology industry. During this time he has specialized in software product management and marketing for B2B companies, working for and consulting with a range of companies from travel giant Expedia to small startups.  Reflecting on the History major’s impact on his career, Stan writes, “As a marketing professional I have had to do a great deal of research and writing, so having that experience is particularly useful.  I also have to create and present cogent arguments for strategy, planning, and budgets so the active exchanges we had in the classroom carry over.” He notes that History majors considering tech careers can draw upon their research and writing skills, but will also “need to have a strong interest in technology and spend time developing knowledge of trends, markets, customers, etc.  I know humanities majors who say that they are not technically minded (or worse, technology adverse), but in most cases that’s just not true - learning technology is no different than learning history, it is simply a different subject matter.”

After graduation, Dan Carey ’89 got an M.A. in History from Washington State University while going through Army ROTC.  He served as an active duty officer in the supply field from 1993-2000, in Korea and at Army bases on the East Coast, then took a job as a purchasing agent buying steel.  After returning from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Army Reserve, Dan joined Boeing’s 777 program.  He writes that “studying history at UPS prepared me very well for graduate work at WSU, including writing a thesis.  Studying history at UPS also helped me to be a good writer.” His career trajectory has convinced Dan of the importance of flexibility and remaining open to learning new skills.  As he says, “Whatever job you go in to you will have to learn a lot about the particulars of that job and career field.  So having a History degree does not hurt.  There is a lot to learn and taking the time to do so is what matters in the long run.”

Alex Parkhurst ’90 got started in the tech industry at MCI, where, he writes, “I taught myself how to do a variety of IT related tasks from desktop support, database maintenance and development, call center support and just all- around technology stuff,” eventually ending up as a Senior Manager.  After getting an Master’s in Information Systems from the University of Colorado, Denver, he worked in mobile application development and did consulting work before taking his current position as Senior Manager of Data Transformation Strategy at ClickFox.  Alex urges current students to develop their critical thinking skills and learn to deconstruct problems to define clear solutions.  As he says, “This is a key skill for any profession, not just IT, and the number of people who can actually do it is far outweighed by the number of people who think they can do it.  Whenever I find someone who has this skill I do my best to ensure we do whatever is necessary to keep them as an employee and foster their growth.”

Chris Jacob ’93 earned an MBA from Portland State (a program which “encouraged non-business majors, especially in History and engineering, to enroll because of our different approach to thinking”).  From there he was recruited as a Quality Assurance Manager for Copper & Brass Sales, a Division of ThyssenKrupp Inc., where “he ushered the company through a successful ISO 9001 certification audit for both the Portland and Seattle branches.” Chris writes that “it was my business degree that got me the interview, but it was my History degree that allowed me to excel at the job...thinking critically, writing well, communicating clearly, speaking with confidence.”  Since the late 90’s he has worked in outside sales at various companies, most recently at PAC Stainless.  Chris wants current students to understand the professional value of the undergraduate history degree in conjunction with the MBA.

After graduating, Kyla Burnet ’08 tried her hand at fundraising, sales, non-profit work, and design before moving into her current role as an Associate Project Manager in the IT department of a biotech company.  She writes, “While the jobs I've held haven't been directly in the History field, majoring in History was indirectly very practical,” since History students learn “to communicate clearly and persuasively through writing, to read between the lines and draw a conclusion, and appreciate the complexities of mistakes made in the past to prevent them from happening in the future.”  She suggests that current students hone their public speaking skills, as these are invaluable in the workplace, and use informational interviews to network with people at companies they admire.

History faculty remember Jason Schumacher ’10 as an office assistant extraordinaire, and he has gone on to put his organizational and communications skills to excellent use in the computer software field.  After working in healthcare marketing, Jason discovered a talent for business process and analytics through his work at the Tableau Foundation, where he now a Program Manager.  Looking back, he can see how his undergraduate work with digital tools like the research management program Zotero laid the foundation for his current work, and encourages History students interested in tech careers to gain readily applicable technical skills as a supplement “to the more qualitative, problem-solving background I assume History majors automatically bring to the table.” 

Katie Wheeler ’11 writes, “After being out of school and working for over two years, I decided to pursue an advanced degree abroad. I was accepted into the MSc International History-Empire, Colonialism, and Globalization Program at the London School of Economics. While my program was a continuation of my interest in history, I also took courses in economics and accounting as I hoped to show an interest in subject matter outside of history too.” Upon returning to the US, Katie was hired as an Accounting Technician at the Oregon Health and Science University Foundation, a non-profit organization in Portland, OR, where she now works as a Risk Management Analyst.” For her, “the most rewarding piece of my current career is that I am always learning new things. Additionally, many of my colleagues have more traditional accounting backgrounds whereas I have the opportunity to add a more well-rounded perspective.”  As Katie reminds current students, “Having a degree in History is about much more than knowledge in a particular subject. If you’re looking to enter a career that does not obviously relate to history, emphasize the many transferable skills you have (e.g. critical thinking, research, ability to make connections and argue a specific point of view.). Network with people in the industry and find opportunities to show employers you’re invested in that career path.”