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Sarah McKenna

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'19 History, Political Science | MLIS Graduate Student, University of Maryland | College Park, MD
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Sarah McKenna

Liberal Arts Majors: History, Political Science

Hometown: Collegeville, PA

Current Location: Washington, D.C. area

What enrichment activities did you participate in as a student?

During my time at Penn State, I was a museum services intern at Gettysburg National Military Park through the Richards Civil War Era Center's internship program. This internship sparked my interest in archives, libraries, and museums. Going into my senior year, I decided to apply to graduate schools for history/archival programs and ended up in the Library and Information Science master's degree program at the University of Maryland! In addition, I conducted several research projects and accompanying presentations, including my Schreyer Honors College thesis. Prior to my thesis, I presented at Penn State's Africana Research Center Undergraduate Research Exhibition. Finally, I took part in a short-term summer study abroad to Rome, Italy. On campus, I was also involved with the Liberal Arts Ambassadors, THON, and Club Swimming. I even danced in THON for Club Swimming in 2018.

What was your first job after graduating from Penn State?

Right after graduating from Penn State, I started my master's degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Maryland. On top of being a full-time student, I work as a graduate assistant in UMD's Office of Undergraduate Admissions, specifically working with the Limited Enrollment Programs and admission to the University. While on campus, I also work a part-time job with UMD Libraries as a student assistant on the Historic Maryland Newspaper Project. Finally, as part of my degree requirements, I was also a remote metadata intern at the Law Library of Congress for two semesters of grad school.

What was your favorite class and/or who was your favorite faculty member?

I actually have two favoritesENGL 083S Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement with Professor Jack Selzer and HIST 450 Constitutional History of the United States from 1870 with Professor Mike Milligan. These two classes and professors really established my academic and career journey. Between my first research assignments and presentations, these two classes directly led me to my thesis and kickstarted my interest in learning more about the Supreme Court. Professors Selzer and Milligan are wonderful people who are always ready to help their students!

How did the Paterno Fellows Program enhance your experiences and opportunities as a student?

Although I did not start my freshman year as a Paterno Fellow, I joined the program once I was admitted to the Schreyer Honors College at the beginning of my junior year. I enjoyed meeting other Paterno Fellows and seeing the different experiences each student had. On top of simply being a Penn State student, Paterno Fellows have an extra emphasis on staying actively involved on campus and in the community, which encouraged me to seek out experiences I would have never found on my own, such as study abroad and research presentations. Because the College of the Liberal Arts is so broad, it's great to see students take their passion for a subject and carry it through their academic and professional careers.

How did your liberal arts education and skills prepare you for life after graduation?

Being a liberal arts student allowed me to explore my passions and not be afraid to try something new. Starting my master's degree immediately after completing my undergraduate education is a great example. I knew very little about library and information science before starting my degree. I knew that I wanted to work with archival materials, but I was open to exploring other avenues in the field. After my first semester of graduate classes, I started taking courses in information policy, government information, and data analysis, as well as completing an internship with the Law Library of Congress. My liberal arts education made this successful shift in my academic focus possible. By being open to exploring new fields and viewing my master's degree as another opportunity to learn, I discovered passions in even more subjects.

What networking advice would you share with current students?

Don't be afraid to reach out to employers, especially Penn State alumni! Alumni love connecting with students at events, workshops, and on LinkedIn. By reaching out to alumni who work in a field you're interested in, you gain not only some insights on their career, but you also start networking and making connections.

What role have mentors played in your career progression?

My mentors have been tremendously helpful. While some of my first mentors introduced me to different careers in history, others have helped me navigate graduate school applications, applying for assistantships, and finding part-time jobs to gain some library experience. More recently, my mentors helped me navigate a whole new career path. As I plan to start hunting for a full-time job, mentors will continue to be critical even after I land my first position.

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Flashback to Sarah as an Undergrad:

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