ALUMNI PROFILE—MARY KENNEDY
What year(s) did you attend Ball State University and what program did you complete?
I completed the MSHP program, attending from 1998-2000.
What interested you in pursuing a higher education in Historic Preservation?
My parents frequently took our family to visit historic sites and buildings, museums, etc. growing up. I also grew up living in old farmhouses, so I’ve always had an appreciation for history in general and the older built environment, which led me to pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history. A common question I received was “What will you do with a history degree?” Most people assumed the logical route was to become a teacher or professor. Teaching options didn’t really interest me, and when I ran across the MSHP program at Ball State, it just kind of clicked – I could pursue my love of history and historic architecture further!
What was a notable experience you had while in the MSHP Program?
I have many fond memories of the MSHP program and the people I met there so it’s hard to pick just one notable experience. To name a few, I enjoyed the field trips, attending the statewide preservation conference and the National Trust conference, participating in the MSHP program 20th anniversary festivities, and working in a community near where I grew up in Wayne County for our studio project. The variety of projects, site visits, and connections made with preservation professionals are what make the MSHP program great.
What have you been doing since graduation?
After graduation, I worked for an architecture firm in Ohio for several years with architects, planners, archaeologists, and other historians. We worked together on a variety of cultural resource management documents mainly for governmental agencies from state departments of transportation (DOTs), to the US Army Corps of Engineers, to US Navy and Air Force installations. It was very interesting to prepare documents for a variety of atypical historic resources, such as post-WWII bridges, air force hangers and bunkers, and other military facilities while traveling across the country. But ultimately, I wanted to settle down back in Indiana, and my work on DOT projects led me to a job opening for an architectural historian at INDOT in the environmental section. When I started at INDOT, there was one archaeologist on staff. A few years later, INDOT underwent a big reorganization, which led to the creation of a Cultural Resources Office, and now we have seven historians and four archaeologists. Over time, it became clear that historic bridge projects were a special breed, and they consumed a lot of my time, along with various duties associated with managing our Historic Bridges Programmatic Agreement. So, a historic bridge specialist position was created, and my focus for the past several years has been historic bridge projects. I enjoy the challenges of working with historic bridges to try to find a balance between historic preservation interests and maintaining a good transportation infrastructure.
How did participating in the MSHP program impact where you are today?
The MSHP program provided an overview of the state and federal historic preservation laws that I now deal with on a daily basis and a good foundation for identifying building types and styles of the Midwest. My internship and graduate assistantship with Indiana Landmarks in the county survey program also helped greatly with the latter. My experience surveying historic properties was what really landed me the job after graduation. One week after starting, I had to hit the ground running with survey work in two small towns in West Virginia.
Do you have any advice for current or prospective MSHP students?
Keep an open mind about job possibilities! Most people studying historic preservation probably don’t set out to work for a DOT; in fact, it might be the last place they’d think of going. Regulatory compliance is not the most glamorous work, but it is a very important piece of the cultural resources management puzzle, and it can be rewarding in its own way. We’ve had a few interns at INDOT from the MSHP program, and they were able to see the wide variety of roles in the preservation world and how they can interact. For INDOT projects, we work closely with the staff of the State Historic Preservation Officer; we coordinate with state and local preservation advocacy groups and historic property owners, and we rely on cultural resources consultants throughout the process. The beauty of the MSHP degree is that it can lead to any number of career opportunities for those who are ready to explore them.
By Abby Marshall, B.S. Geography, ’19, M.S. Historic Preservation, ’21