Curtis Ashton (’05) Says “Make the Most of the Opportunities that Come your Way”

Curtis Ashton graduated from Indiana University in 2005 with a Dual Masters in Folklore and Library Science. Since leaving Indiana, Ashton did fieldwork at ethnographic museums in Beijing, China. After working there, Ashton returned home to Utah where he says he “applied to jobs all over the country”. However, since it was in 2009 (during the middle of a nationwide recession), Ashton says that he didn’t have any real employment for over a year. In 2010, Ashton was able to work for the US Census Bureau as well as finish writing his dissertation. I had the chance to speak with Ashton over e-mail, where I asked him about his current job positions, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his work routine and his favorite memories from IU.

Where are you now? How did you get started in your career?
“I finally was able to land a pair of interviews at Brigham Young University, not far from where I was living. One job was for an assistant professor position in the Anthropology department. The other was director of the Museum of Peoples and Cultures on campus. Ultimately there were three people for two jobs, and I was the odd man out. As a consolation prize, though, the Anthropology Department Chair hired me as adjunct faculty to teach an introductory museum studies course. That allowed me to apply for another job teaching Museum Studies at Utah State University, which is what ultimately launched my career in the museum field. I taught for Utah State for 2 years and picked up some more classes at BYU as an adjunct instructor during that same time. Then I spent a year writing curriculum for BYU before applying for my current position as a curator over historic sites owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

What does your day-to-day look like? How has COVID changed your work routine?
“My day-to-day is filled with team meetings (now over Zoom rather than in person). During COVID I have had to be more intentional in scheduling time to talk with coworkers instead of being able to slip into an office or stop someone in the hallway. Even from my basement office at home, I have still been able to connect to people and keep projects moving. Right now I’m in the middle of a major exhibit about the temple built by Latter-day Saints in the 1840s in Nauvoo, Illinois. (We also just launched this new website for Nauvoo’s historic sites.)”

“When I’m not in meetings, I spend time researching and writing, or reviewing writing by my co-workers.”

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
“I have a fairly new assignment to provide training for seasonal volunteers, which means I also spend time developing lesson plans and presenting them in a virtual classroom environment. It is fun to be teaching again! I would say the most rewarding part of what I do is the chance to interact with great colleagues. For example, I recently spent five days on the road with a senior colleague arranging furnishings at four historic homes. During that time together, I was able to ask him questions about this and other projects he has worked on over the past 30 years. He is a brilliant man and a good, kind friend. Learning from great people is what I enjoy most.”

What do you wish someone would have told you before you entered the workplace?
“My academic training was an important milestone, but it is not the end of my education. I’ve had lots of opportunities for professional development, and I only wish I could take more advantage of them.”

What advice would you share with students currently looking for internships or full-time jobs?
“Nothing is wasted. All of the small jobs I did on campus, or even working as a temp for the Census Bureau, translated into skills I still can use. Sometimes the skills we develop in our classes or elsewhere on campus are as much about working with others as they are about accomplishing tasks. So, if the perfect opportunity seems unattainable, find ways to make the most of the opportunities that do come your way.”

What was your favorite memory from your time at IU?
“As much as I enjoyed my classes, so much of what I remember happened outside the classroom. One of the best things I did on campus was work for a student-run publication in the Folklore Department. I was able to develop important job skills like managing money, answering phones, fulfilling work requests, interfacing with writers and editors and publishers. But what I remember best is the chance to work with other great students and to participate in real-world decision-making.”

By Geoffrey Heck
Geoffrey Heck Peer Coach Geoffrey Heck