Kimberly Hamlin

Kimberly HamlinLast May, I received an email that changed the scope of my graduate studies, expanded professional aspirations, and enriched my life. This email invited graduate students to apply for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to work with Professor Martha Norkunas on the Austin Women's Commemorative Project, under the auspices of UT's Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program. I had just completed my first year of graduate school in American Studies and, while I very much enjoyed my classes, was feeling disconnected from the community and wondering how I might connect my intellectual interests in American women's history with my personal and professional interests in community service and involvement. And, eureka, this email appeared.

Working on the Austin Women's Commemorative Project (AWCP) has been, and continues to be, the highlight of my graduate career. For starters, it has provided an ideal opportunity for me to put what I have learned in the classroom into practice in the community. At UT, I have taken several courses on public history and women's history and explored questions such as: How do communities use history? How can historians use their skills to enrich their communities? And how can we incorporate women's history into standard history and honor women's contributions on the landscape? While my courses and readings prepared me for the AWCP, my work on the AWCP has helped me formulate answers to these questions in ways that no class ever could.

The goal of the AWCP is two-fold: to erect a permanent monument in Austin to women who have made a significant contribution to positive social change in the community (there are currently no monuments in Austin honoring women) and to construct a women's history trail and accompanying educational materials. We have researched over a hundred potential honorees and assembled a group of Austin leaders from various communities and disciplines to help us as we move forward. Along the way, I have learned that the process is nearly as important as the outcome. I have met local and national women's historians and activists, joined the National Council on Public History, become involved in the Austin women's community, and begun working on a documentary about a group of Texas women with a colleague I met through the AWCP. Making a documentary has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I am hoping that my research on these women will turn into my dissertation.

Our project has also forged important cross-disciplinary links between students and faculty here at UT and provided a bridge between UT and the greater Austin community. We hosted a planning conference last fall that brought together Austin artists, historians, and activists with those of us involved with the AWCP at UT. Variations of this original group have continued to get together throughout the year to work on the AWCP as well as to discuss other projects. Working on the AWCP has provided those of us affiliated with UT with a vital vehicle for outreach in the Austin community, an important support network, and a way to share our research with the entire city. For me, the AWCP and the support I have received from Professor Norkunas and from the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program has enabled me to restructure my graduate education in a way that is most meaningful to me, provided me with the opportunity to apply my classroom learning to an actual community project, introduced me to an amazing network of women and mentors, and expanded my notions of what it is possible to do with a graduate degree in American Studies.