By Steffi S. Lee ’16
Many Simpson College students arrive on campus not knowing which academic path they should follow.
Allison Haack ’10 includes herself among that group.
She, like many Simpson graduates, say it was their experience on campus, and the guidance they receive, that led them into a career they might not have been considering when they were high school students.
Haack now spends her days digging into the past at Indiana University as a graduate student in library science with a specialization in archives and records management.
To understand how she got there, go back to when Haack was a high school student in LeClaire, Iowa, trying to decide where to attend college. In this case, she looked to her own past.
“My grandma on my dad’s side had attended Simpson in the late 40s and early 50s,” she said.
On a campus visit, Haack talked with a Simpson professor.
“I went in undeclared and I really had no idea what to do,” she said. “My mom thought maybe I’d be good at marketing.”
Visiting with a marketing professor, Haack realized her true passion was history. That conversation was a turning point, the kind that Simpson encourages and makes possible.
“(The professor) was like, ‘I was a Russian History undergraduate major, so do what you love,’” she said. “I thought that was really interesting that he wasn’t trying to get me into his department. He was just saying do what you love.”
Haack declared herself a history major, and that’s when the digging into the past began. It continued during her work-study job in Dunn Library.
“I’ve always been around libraries and I love reading,” she said. “I felt like that would be something that I knew about.”
As a work-study student, Haack managed the circulation desk, periodicals and shelved books. She enjoyed the work enough that she sought another position, serving an undergraduate assistantship managing Simpson’s archives with Cyd Dyer, the college librarian and archivist.
“I didn’t really know what archives were at the time,” she said. “Cyd was really good at guiding me. She collects lots of things, from faculty meeting minutes to commencement programs.”
Haack was the undergraduate archives assistant from August 2008 to May 2010. She sorted and filed materials donated to the archives, researched requests concerning former students and faculty and updated master indexes for the archives website.
“I also researched and assembled small library displays on Hopper Gymnasium and Clarence Pickard and located photographs for the Sesquicentennial book,” she said.
Working with Simpson’s archives improved Haack’s skills with preserving and working with history. She soon became the person people contacted if they wanted a piece of Simpson’s history. Haack remembers when she was able to help classmates in her Iowa history course.
“Usually they’d go out and interview people across the state,” she said. “But this time, our classmates came out to the archives. I got to help my classmates find things and teach them a little bit on how to use the archives.”
The experience working in the archives led her to seek a career in the field.
While Haack was helping students study Simpson’s history, assistant professor of history Rebecca Livingstone was helping her academic career.
“In the fall of 2007, I studied abroad in London,” Haack said. “I was undeclared at that point, and I thought there that I really love history. I loved being surrounded by it all the time. I loved that class so I went to her and she became my adviser.”
Her knack for the past dealt with critical thinking and strong writing skills, which Haack says professor Livingstone and her history classes helped her with.
“You have to be able to argue why something’s important or worth saving,” she said. “Or you need to make the argument on why you shouldn’t save it. A lot of my history classes really promoted speaking up in class. They took note on how much you were speaking up and saying something that added to the discussion.”
Now Haack is obtaining her master’s degree and says her well-rounded liberal arts education from Simpson was critical in helping her apply to Indiana University.
“The skills I learned as a history major have been invaluable,” she said. “Learning to think and write critically was important for my academic work at the graduate level.”
Indiana University offered Haack a year-long graduate assistantship with the Wylie House Museum as part of a scholarship. Her projects involved reading through transcripts of Wylie family letters and entering data and summaries into an access document so letters could be searched by subject matter, sender and receiver and other keywords.
The Wylie House was home to Indiana University’s first president, Andrew Wylie. The museum aims to preserve Indiana University’s history through Wylie family letters and personal papers.
“I enjoyed it so much at Wylie House that I asked to stay on as a volunteer,” she said. “The director knows I have a pretty solid knowledge of everything.”
As it goes for all incoming students, Simpson targeted Haack’s passion immediately. Now she’s completing her final year at Indiana University. After graduating, she said she’s ready for any history-related career that will allow her to keep the past alive.
“Part of what fuels me a lot is that by understanding the past, I can understand the present so much better,” she said.
CAREER UPDATE — 2015
In the fall of 2014, Haack began work as the Library Assistant in the Special Collections and Archives at Grinnell College. This is a job she may never knew existed if it wasn’t for a job posting she happened upon that led her to the Archives at Simpson College and Cyd Dyer, Simpson College Librarian/Archivist.
“I was so impressed with Cyd’s extensive knowledge of the history of the college and of the town,” Haack said. “I decided very early on in my time at the Archives that someday I wanted to have that same level of knowledge about a collection.”
Haack is one of two full-time staff, and Grinnell’s collection includes the college archives, a manuscript collection, and a rare book collection.
She finds herself using skills she learned in her major every day. “Being able to examine documents with a critical eye – something I learned as a History major – is significant to be able to understand the context and circumstances under which material was created and utilized,” said Haack.
Effective communication is also something her History professors made sure she was well prepared for.
“Whether it’s writing exhibit labels and brochures or talking with students about the binding of a book, the communication skills I learned at Simpson are essential in my work.”
Having received a minor in French has also been useful to Haack. “We have a number of French language books in our rare book collection so being able to read a title or determine the subject matter is helpful.”
Haack’s work as the Library Assistant involves training and supervising student workers, answering archival reference questions, assisting students and researchers, working with classes that visit Special Collections, conducting outreach [for Special Collections], and creating displays featuring materials from their collections.
“Without that experience in the Simpson Archives, I might never have learned about the archives profession,” reflected Haack. “Finding that job posting was a happy accident that ended up leading me down my career path.
“I feel incredibly fortunate that I love what I do, and my time at Simpson absolutely helped me to get where I am today.”