Senior Simon Berry finds calling as a history major

Senior Simon Berry began college with plans to enter a STEM field, but an internship with the City of Aiken solidified his decision to change his course to history. Although he once doubted whether he could apply his passion for history to a career path, the internship experience opened his eyes to the many ways he can use his skills for historical initiatives.

Berry interned for the City of Aiken last summer, working on assignments for the Historic Aiken Foundation, the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department and the Planning Department. One of his chief responsibilities was collecting data for a historic preservation initiative for the north side of Aiken. The information will ultimately be used by the City and the Historic Aiken Foundation in deciding whether to create a historical district in the area.

Berry created a geographic information system (GIS) for data collection, including the years homes were built, their owners, architectural features and photos, derived from property records and South Carolina archives. He also analyzed old fire insurance maps used by firefighters and insurance companies to help determine when structures were built.

Mary Tilton, assistant city manager for the City of Aiken, was Berry's supervisor. She says, "Simon was instrumental in creating a new GIS database for the City to use when making planning, zoning and other decisions for this part of the City. He was required to work independently on often repetitive tasks, and we were impressed by his motivation, curiosity and commitment to excellence."

As the end of his internship neared, Berry applied for the role he holds currently, a part-time position with the Savannah River Site Museum. His responsibilities include greeting and assisting museum visitors and giving tours. Both roles have taught him that the skills he has acquired as a history major are highly valued in the workplace.

"It really opened my mindset," he says. "History majors learn to perform quick and thorough research and synthesize that information in a coherent way. Working with the City showed me that I can apply these skills to all different types of jobs."

Berry encourages other students considering a degree in history to "just go for it" and use campus resources to help them along the way. "Focus on your skills and sell yourself that way," he says. "Also, take any internship opportunities you can get. The Career Services office wants you to get internships and will help you build your resume and work on interview skills."

Tilton adds, "Simon served as an excellent representative of the high caliber of students at USC Aiken, and the City is grateful to have this relationship with our local university."

Berry will graduate in May and is looking forward to the next steps in his history career. While the exact path is unknown, he is considering pursuing advanced degrees and becoming a historian or a professor but may continue his museum work in the short term. Wherever he goes, he's glad he stayed the course as a history major.

"History is a very important aspect of the human experience. I have a strong passion for it and really love learning about it," he says. "You only live once, so you may as well do something you enjoy."

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