Karen Armagost ’11 did not start her career as a Park Ranger, but through her experiences and her degree, she found a true passion in life. After growing up in Pennsylvania, she came to Washington, D.C. to change the world. Her work with non-profits doing database management and fundraising contributed to the dismantling the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, but after 20 years she was burnt out, and decided she wanted to be a park ranger. She had fallen in love with the history of music and New Orleans after several volunteer trips (where she also met her future wife) and decided to change career paths.
“I thought about moving. But I realized I would need a degree if I wanted to be a park ranger to get my foot in the door,” said Armagost. She had started out years ago as a political science major but since she was still working, “My old college was not an option, so I turned to UMUC to complete my degree.”
Armagost completed one class a semester, even completing her assignments and homework on the Metro while commuting to and from work. She and her future wife moved to New Orleans in 2010 with two semesters to finish her bachelor’s degree in history. This challenged Armagost because she did not know what the online classroom experience would hold. Being new to the city, she hung out in coffee shops, garnering the support of the other customers who would regularly ask her about her assignments and exams, offering encouragement daily. She also volunteered and interned with the National Park Service in New Orleans and in Pecos. She finished in the spring of 2011 and enrolled in a graduate program at Tulane to earn her master’s degree in preservation studies. Armagost accredits UMUC for preparing her for the next step in her career path.
Currently, Armagost is a seasonal park ranger for the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, a job she has proudly held for three years, and a tour guide hosting musical heritage tours from Nashville to New Orleans and National Park tours from Bryce to Zion. Being a historian and preservationist also helps when you’re renovating your shotgun home built in the late 1880s. She shares that what she learned in the classroom while completing her bachelor’s at UMUC directly align with what she is doing today. She uses papers she wrote for her research and writing classes in her tours. The things she did at UMUC feed directly into her job today. She loved her professors, particularly with her African-American studies class and her jazz history class, and uses what she learned every day.
Her advice for budding historians, whether new to the field or a career changer, “Find your passion. If you're going to research, write, or present, find the time period and people that are interesting to you and start researching them early in your studies,” said Armagost. “Get to know the people you want to work with and the jobs you want to hold. Talk to these people about different pathways programs and keep applying. Volunteer as a way to get experience while you are attending school, so you have experience you can speak to. Get a mentor at any age! Also remember to keep networking as you never know who from your past may be valuable to helping you pursue your career goals.”
Ranger Armagost is a great example of a UMUC alum successfully pursuing her passion, even after a few twists and turns along the way. Be sure to visit her if you’re ever at the New Orleans Jazz historical Park and say hello!
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