A Summary of the Past Presidents’ Student Reception on Careers in Community Engagement

A Summary of the Past Presidents’ Student Reception on Careers in Community Engagement
Society for Historical Archaeology 2021 Virtual Conference
By Bill Lees, Della Scott-Ireton, and Sara Ayers-Rigsby

During the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) 2021 Virtual Conference, the SHA held six “virtual” Past Presidents’ Student Receptions over several days. During these sessions, which were each an hour long, students were able to engage SHA’s leaders in conversation and explore a wide range of career paths in historical archaeology.

The following is a summary of the discussions from the session on careers in Community Engagement, held on Friday, January 8, 2021, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. CST. The panelists for this session were: 

  • Bill Lees: Executive Director, Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN)
  • Della Scott-Ireton: Associate Director, FPAN
  • Sara Ayers-Rigsby: Director, Southeast/Southwest Regions, FPAN

In early December 2020, SHA sent students registered for the 2021 Virtual SHA Conference a survey with a list of questions about careers in historical archaeology. Students were asked to select the career type or types of their choice, and then select the top three questions they would like the session panelists to address in terms of these career paths.

During the first half of the session on careers in Community Engagement, the panelists discussed and responded to the top three survey questions. The number one question students were interested in was: What does a career in public archaeology and community engagement look like? Dr. Lees opened the conversation by enumerating how community engagement is conducted by archaeologists at all levels. This includes archaeologists working for the federal government or cultural resource management firms, as well as dedicated public archaeology organizations across the country like the Florida Public Archaeology Network and Archaeology in the Community. The panelists discussed that larger organizations want to ensure that their work is relevant and useful to different communities.

Another popular question was: How to structure a resume or CV to pursue this type of career. Dr. Scott-Ireton emphasized the importance of outside training from groups like the National Association for Interpretation, which can help prospective community archaeologists hone their interpretation skills. Ayers-Rigsby added to this, reminding students to highlight their relevant skill sets (for example event planning or working with local youth groups) on their resumes/CVs. Dr. Lees also pointed out that classes or volunteering that might help students improve their communication skills generally would be helpful as well. All panelists agreed that being able to interpret technical information in a way that would be exciting and relevant to people without dumbing anything down was a vital skill for aspiring community archaeologists.

Students were also interested in how to approach networking. All panel members encouraged students to reach out to archaeologists whose work they were interested in and introduce themselves. In addition to events like the Past Presidents’ Student Reception, students were encouraged to get involved with committees at SHA like the Public Education and Interpretation Committee (https://sha.org/about-us/standing-committees/).

During the second half of the session, attendees were asked to post their own questions in the Chat Box, and the panelists responded to each question in turn. Questions from the chat included:

Do you see CRM firms reaching out to do public engagement?
Do you see other states creating similar network-based approach (like FPAN?)
Could the panelists possibly speak to the relationship between public archaeology and public history and your experiences?

Ayers-Rigsby and Dr. Lees spoke broadly about their experiences working in CRM and how local communities are often interested in archaeological excavations in their neighborhood that are taking place in conjunction with development. Dr. Lees also spoke about the potential for community engagement as creative mitigation for large-scale projects.

During the discussion about other states creating similar network-based approaches, Della Scott-Ireton again directed people to Archaeology in the Community, and for those interested in underwater archaeology suggested they investigate the Nautical Archaeological Society. For those interested in public archaeology and public history, she recommended FPAN’s Destination Archaeology Resource Center, which is run by Mike Thomin of FPAN.

A Closing Note from Terry Klein and Terry Majewski:
We were very pleased about the results of this and the other career sessions. Exchanges between the panelists and attendees were lively and very informative, and several attendees acknowledged their thanks at the end of each session. We are looking forward to the next Past Presidents’ Student Receptions in Philadelphia! It will be great to finally see everyone in person!

If you have any questions about this and the other career sessions, or future Past Presidents’ Student Receptions, please contact Mr. Terry Klein (tklein@srifoundation.org) or Dr. Teresita Majewski (tmajewski@sricrm.com).

Written by Mark Freeman

Website Editor