Willamette History Alumni

From lawyers and CEOs to librarians and researchers, our History Alumni flourish in their fields.

Expand to Hear Their Stories

James Cuno

"History makes me see events in context and better understand that things change over time."

I am President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, a large cultural institution dedicated to the greater understanding and preservation of art, architecture, and archaeological sites around the world. It comprises an art museum with two sites, a research center and library, a philanthropic foundation that advances art history and conservation around the world, and a conservation center that (1) scientifically examines the material properties of works of art and architecture and the effects of the environment on them and (2) trains conservators internationally. I enjoy most the chance to work with interesting and smart people and together make a difference in the greater understanding of the world's artistic legacy.

History at Willamette provoked my curiosity about the world over time and, with great teachers like George McCowen and Bill Duvall, it challenged me to think and write clearly and realize that historical truths are many, changing, and always more complicated than they at first seem. History makes me see events in context and better understand that things change over time. It also helps me understand difference in the world as being contingent on circumstances, most of which are made by humans and can be unmade or changed. Above all, history makes me suspicious of simplistic statements about why things are as they seem to be.

Emily Wakild

I am a Latin American History professor at Boise State University. I enjoy teaching students about the value of the past and doing historical research. I write about national parks and conservation so I enjoy thinking about how different people in different times valued nature. I liked how small and intimate the department was but that it nevertheless exposed me to worlds I never knew existed. The professors truly cared what I thought and were committed to helping me analyze new ways of thinking. I always felt challenged and supported.

History is a necessary luxury. It is a privilege to be immersed in historical practice for a career which helps me see the value of history far beyond the classroom. I love how practical this practice is beyond good stories---which draw us all in. Examining change over time, supporting arguments with sources, close reading, juxtaposing perspectives, empathizing with varied views--these are a few critical skills historians use. If scientists, politicians, and business people all thought historically or used these skills--even some of the time -- I'd like to think we would have a more just and equitable world.

I sometimes wish I had majored in Business or Economics instead of History. But then I think about how hard skills like accounting or statistics are actually pretty easy to learn. What is difficult is the critical thinking: how to be a big picture and big solutions thinker. History at Willamette made my mind both expansive and sharp. It has helped me enormously in all the work I currently do. I am an entrepreneur and build businesses with a triple bottom line approach--businesses that do good for the planet, people, and also make a profit. Often, my projects also focus on equity and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups. It is challenging and rewarding to hold these seemingly oppositional ideas (capitalism and social justice) move each forward together. But this sort of thing is exactly what the History degree set me up to do! I can use a lens of critical race theory to examine a project: is it perpetuating justice or reifying racism? Who is served and who is (isn't) being represented? And then also think: Will this make money? If so, how much and when?

Amanda Strauss

"I felt like the history department was my extended family."

I am a Research Librarian at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for 

Advanced Study, Harvard University. I enjoy working with a wide range of scholars (undergraduates to tenured faculty, artists, and activists) who are working on projects related to women and gender. It is a privilege to work in a library that is dedicated to documenting and making accessible the rich history of women in the United States. Here is an image from our collections.

Without a doubt, the faculty of the history department [was my favorite part of the department].

The classes were wonderful, but the willingness of the faculty to engage with me outside of the classroom left a lasting impression. Whether we were talking about my thesis, current events, philosophical quandaries, or life plans, the faculty were always there for me. I felt like the history department was my extended family. The introductions to archival research, history theory, and the high expectations for research and writing proved indispensable in graduate school and to my continued scholarship.

I am committed to the idea of the scholar as activist. In a tribute session to renowned historian Gerda Lerner at the American Historical Association’s meeting in 2014, and historian Linda Kerber spoke, recalling Gerda Lerner’s commitment to the idea that history matters. It is socially, culturally, and politically relevant. This idea is what I love about history, and it has informed my career choice of being an archivist and a librarian. My history degree has been important for my career, but it has also made my life richer. I really can’t say enough about it.

Elise Young

"I like that history opens you up to learning about different cultures and perspectives through a framework that presents the facts like a puzzle to be solved."

I am a lawyer and I enjoy the complexity of the problems I am tasked with solving. I enjoyed the variety in subject-matter and the engagement of the professors in Willamette's history department. I like that history opens you up to learning about different cultures and perspectives through a framework that presents the facts like a puzzle to be solved (albeit with many possible answers!).

Excelling in the study of history required that I develop excellent research and analysis skills. These have paid off immeasurably in my graduate studies and career.

Tracy Rizzo

"I loved small classes, seminar format, and the close interactions with faculty and peers at Willamette."

I am a full professor at UNCA, former director of women's studies and chair elect of the history dept.

My experience as a history major at WU inspired me to enter the professorate so I could "pay it forward," ie impart to others the brilliant instruction and mentoring I enjoyed. I loved small classes, seminar format, and the close interactions with faculty and peers at Willamette. Now on the other side of the table I still enjoy that kind of learning. What I love about teaching is engaging with developing minds who bring new insights and questions to the study of the past. The study of history continues to open new worlds to me as a researcher and author.

Fritz Holznagel

"History isn't really the study of the past at all -- it's the study of the future."

I write web and marketing copy for Google and other high-tech companies, and in my spare time run the biography website Who2.com with fellow WU history major Paul Hehn ('82). History at Willamette is where I learned to think and learned to write clearly, and it's where I learned that the study of history has real-world applications. Indeed, since I graduated in 1983, the whole of American political discourse seems to have been devoted to re-fighting the Federalist battles of the 1780's about just how strong the federal government needs to be. For me, reading about history is always a pleasure and never gets old. History isn't really the study of the past at all -- it's the study of the future.

fritz holznagel

"Willamette's high writing expectations, far higher than those at large state universities, prepared me well for writing standards in a doctoral program."

I am an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee. As a Willamette University history major, I gained great analytical and writing skills that served me in graduate school and also in my future profession. Willamette's high writing expectations, far higher than those at large state universities, prepared me well for writing standards in a doctoral program.

Brandy O'Bannon

"My history degree and my liberal arts studies at Willamette helped make me a better reader, a better writer, and a better person."

I am the Senior Resource Development Director at Family Building Blocks [in Salem, OR].

I enjoy the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young children & their families in Marion & Polk counties. I’m blessed to work with a talented and creative team of colleagues, donors, board members and volunteers.

I liked the excellent professors, small class sizes and diverse curriculum at Willamette. History is not just “the past” – by studying history, we can influence the present and future for the better. My history degree and my liberal arts studies at Willamette helped make me a better reader, a better writer, and a better person.

I’m devoted to helping maintain the historic integrity of Salem, my home-town. I’m on the Board of the Lord and Schryver Conservancy. This is a group who is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the legacy of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver – two pioneering women landscape architects who lived and worked in Salem but who had an important national influence as well.

Rebecca Scofield

"The history department at Willamette is filled with innovative and brilliant scholars, who are also wonderful people."

Building on my history training from Willamette, I am now a PhD candidate in American Studies at Harvard University. Currently, I am on fellowship while researching and writing my dissertation, which focuses on some historical intersections of popular culture and gender, sexuality, and race. I am absolutely thrilled to have a job reading and writing about gender history. The history department at Willamette is filled with innovative and brilliant scholars, who are also wonderful people. They inspired me to believe in own abilities, to continue to research what interested me, and to genuinely care about students.

Chris Foss

"Without my History degree I would not be where I am today."

Chris Foss worked at Portland's famous Powell's Books for two years after graduating from Willamette, from 2007-09.

He then attended the University of Colorado for graduate school, completing his Ph.D in history in August 2016. Chris has taught at the University of Colorado, Willamette University, Tokyo International University of America, and at the University of Portland as an adjunct instructor of history. He has written for a variety of scholarly journals, including Oregon Historical Quarterly; and served for two years as assistant editor of Diplomatic History. Chris is currently working on a book manuscript about the relationship between politics and the globalization of the Pacific Northwest during the Cold War.

peyton tracy

"History is always relevant"

I took a gap year right after graduation to work, but next fall I will be starting my Masters Degree in Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in central New York. Museums offer a unique situation to teach and preserve history in a diverse and engaging environment, and I'm so excited to learn more about this field. At Willamette, the history department prepared me to enter this field by not only teaching me to be a skilled historian but also to think about history from an incredibly diverse range of perspectives that translate well into considerations museum professionals take in when designing museums and exhibits. History is always relevant and something people can relate to, and seeing visitors in museums make those connections and appreciate the past and their present in a new light is what drives my passion for history and museums.


I am the Coordinator of Museum Programs for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I oversee the educational programs available to school groups visiting the museum. I get to work with a lot of amazing people and be immersed in an energetic and fast-paced environment every day.

The staff at Willamette encouraged me to forge my own path and follow my own curiosities so that my degree became meaningful to me. It was shaped over my four years at Willamette by my own experiences and interests and pushed me to take ownership over my education.

History is not a degree that led me on a direct career path, but instead instilled important skills like problem-solving and critical thinking that I use everyday in both my personal and professional life. I am also incredibly lucky to be at a museum where each member of the team is passionate about science and history and together we can all "nerd out" at new scientific discoveries, educational practices, etc.


After graduating from Willamette and the Willamette College of Law, I'm now an associate attorney at the Paul Krueger Law Firm in Portland, Oregon. My practice focuses on personal injury law, and I love the fact that I help injured people get the justice they deserve. It isn't a stretch to say that studying history at Willamette got me where I am today. It taught me to critically analyze facts, synthesize those facts into a coherent narrative, and then use that narrative in a persuasive manner - all skills that I use every day in the office and in the courtroom. For me, history is essentially about discovering 'why things are the way they are,' and in today's incredibly complex, constantly changing world, I can't imagine a more important discipline.

Having worked in immigrant rights advocacy and neighborhood revitalization for the last four years, I am now enjoying a brief stint as the legislative assistant for Speaker of the House Tina Kotek as I prepare to begin a PhD program in Geography this fall. At both of my recent positions, I have appreciated the challenges and rewards of working alongside North Portland neighborhood residents and volunteers to address issues ranging from public spaces and graffiti to small business development and displacement. While I often get raised eyebrows when I disclose History as my undergraduate major, I became a history major at Willamette due to the passion and care the Professors brought to their subject and their students. I value History because it helps us weave together the politics, philosophy, practices, and people of the past to contextualize and problematize the world as we know it now and wish it to be in the future.


I am in my fifth year of teaching high school History and English in Tacoma, Washington. I work with diverse and low-income students, and teach a blended humanities course in addition to advanced placement world history.

I decided I wanted to teach as soon as I took my first history class at Willamette from Ellen Eisenberg. Realizing that history class could be about stories, about people, about things that surprise you, made me want to tell those stories to kids. As I continued my history major at Willamette, I was exposed to more stories and was able to develop serious critical thinking, reading, and writing through the fascinating and engaging history courses taught by Wendy Petersen Boring, Cecily McCaffrey, Bill Duvall, and many other Willamette professors.

As a teacher, I love telling the wonderful, unexpected stories that I learned at Willamette. I continue to research new aspects of history and investigate new unexpected anecdotes about women, people of color, and under-represented groups. I use the skills I gained at Willamette to make history engaging for my students, to help them gain skills to become ready for post-secondary education.


I am an educator at Youth Progress Association in Portland, a non-profit alternative school that serves youth who have been involved in the juvenile justice system or removed from their homes by DHS. Our youth have experienced much trauma; however, we give them access to all the services they need, including a place to live and an opportunity to catch up on their schooling. We offer a safe and supportive school environment that bridges the gaps in education that most students come with to YPA. I have the privilege and opportunity to create and teach my own curriculum (based on PPS guidelines) that allows students to become critical thinkers and transition into traditional schools or work force.

My time at Willamette, especially with Professors Ellen Eisenberg, William Duvall, Leslie Dunlap, and Rebecca Dobkins, taught me an historical perspective and critical thinking skills, as well as helping me tap into my abilities as a lifelong learner, teacher, and mentor. I think fondly of my time at Willamette and have great appreciation for being given the opportunity to grow as a student but also as a person. Professor Eisenberg, Duvall, and Dunlap gave me insight into historical avenues I never imagined. I truly enjoyed pouring over primary sources and extracting from secondary sources as I wrote my final thesis. My passion for history has helped me become an enthusiastic educator of Social Sciences but also English Language Arts and Fine Arts because there are so many crossovers among these subjects and endless opportunities to teach multidisciplinary courses.

While working with Professor Dobkins, as a student in her class, but also as a tutor/mentor at Chemawa Native American Boarding School, I learned about the cultural and historical impacts on populations of people. That understanding motivated me to learn the skills needed to work with at-risk minority students. Professor Dobkins and the students I worked with at Chemawa taught me the greatest lesson and skill that I use every day with students: patience and silence. Giving students a safe environment where they can share their experiences or vent their frustrations is critical. Creating this safe environment is an on-going process of community building, modeling kindness, patience and humility; it's okay to admit when we are wrong or don't know something. I am so grateful for that lesson.

"My time at Willamette, especially with professors Ellen Eisenberg, William Duvall, Leslie Dunlap and Rebecca Dobkins, taught me an historical perspective and critical thinking skills, as well as helping me tap into my abilities as a lifelong learner, teacher and mentor."


I am working on my PhD in Literature at the University of California, Davis. My dissertation research focuses on eighteenth-century writings about unsettled climates and their relevance to current models for thinking through the global climate crisis. My interest in environmental literature can be tied directly to Professor Wendy Petersen Boring's classes on medieval Europe, which helped me grasp the real-world applicability of historical research. Willamette has cultivated a special interdisciplinary community for environmental studies, and the history department is a big part of that.


I have served as the Chief Operating Officer at Metro since 2011. Metro is the only regional government in the United States with a home rule charter and an elected council. It was created in an era of civic innovation in Oregon, a very unique time in our state's history. I've worked in public service in some of the coolest places in the Northwest since graduating from Willamette, including Ashland, Milwaukie, Albany, and Portland. I also had the chance to work for the Columbia River Gorge Commission and for U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield. I have a passion for working on what I call the "quality of life dilemma." In other words, the things that make a community a great place to live and work attract growth; and population and employment growth bring new energy but also change the quality of life. History helps me look at the events and decisions that have brought us to where we are. It helps me analyze the stories we tell about who and what we are as a people, as communities, and as organizations. Those stories frame our world view, our choices, and our future. I still avidly read history, although now I mix it up with fiction, current events, and a few management books.