Alumna Spotlight: Rachel Murphy-Weast
January 31, 2020
Rachel Murphy-Weast graduated from VCU in December 2017 with her B.A. in English and double minors in business and nonprofit management. After working with local nonprofits and helping manage an afterschool program, she now works as a Digital Outreach Educator at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC).
You work at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture full-time but you started as an intern. How did the transition happen from intern to full-time?
I was an education intern at the VMHC (formerly the Virginia Historical Society) from September 2017- April 2018. Towards the end of my internship, the museum needed more help in the education department. I applied for a position as a part-time Digital Outreach Educator and began that job two days after my internship ended. I worked part-time for a little over a year. After balancing two part-time jobs, I received a grant-funded full-time position to create programs about women’s history. I’ve also been researching female representation in the Virginia Standards of Learning. This March I’ll be presenting at the Virginia Association of Museums conference to share my findings and tips for incorporating women’s history into education programs.
Can you tell us a little more about what you do? Are there any perks or things you love?
Being a Digital Outreach Educator involves using Skype and Zoom to connect with students across the world. A typical day consists of teaching, researching, and developing programs. I mostly develop interactive programs for secondary students, as well as professional development activities for teachers. On the side, I run my department’s social media channels (@VMHCEducation on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter).
My favorite things about my job: the students I work with, the variety of programs I teach, and access to the museum’s 9 million+ artifacts. It’s a pretty sweet job.
What are your favorite programs that you’ve created?
My favorite programs are concerned with historiography, or how history is recorded and interpreted. I’m preparing to talk with students about the Progressive Era, specifically about the women’s suffrage movement. We’ll analyze who actually voted after the 19th amendment, then use primary sources to decide if the Suffragists should be considered socially progressive.
My professional development for teachers is called “Lessons Learned,” and it uses nineteenth through twenty-first century Southern history textbooks to examine how black history has been taught in Virginia. We differentiate between content and tone to see where the Lost Cause narrative has permeated the public education system.
How do you think studying English prepared you for this position?
Being an English major prepared me to constantly ask “so what?” Our HistoryConnects programs always have an essential question that the students should be able to answer. “So what?” helps me form a narrative that not only helps students understand how to answer the question but why that question matters. I also credit VCU’s Writing Center for training me to facilitate discussions, which is especially important when teaching students how to connect observations to inferences.
Now that you don’t have a required reading list, what are you reading?
Dr. Bryant Mangum’s English 301 piqued my interest in short stories. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, of course, is a classic. I adore the more contemporary stories of Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. The collection starts off with an Elizabeth Hewer quote: “god should have made girls lethal when he made monsters of men.” This idea of feminine anger is also present in my top read of 2019, Naomi Alderman’s The Power. I want to shout out to my book club, which consists of former VCU English grads. It’s nice to still have structured discussions about literature, but with more wine and expletives.
Thanks for catching up with us, Rachel!
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