FSU History Alumni Spotlight: Working at the Riley Center and Museum, Hope Evans (BA 2022)

Tue, 05/30/23
Hope Evans teaching

I graduated in May 2022 as a History major with a Political Science minor. When I graduated I had absolutely no plans for what to do next. The only thing that I knew was that as an FSU Resident Assistant, I had to move out of the dorm the day after graduation. A situation that I would not recommend to others as it was physically and emotionally draining.

With no job or internship lined up, I moved home knowing that I wanted to come back to live in Tallahassee. I started looking for any history-related job openings. Dr. Mooney, one of my mentors from the History department, sent me information on a job opening at the Riley Museum in Tallahassee. They were looking for a graduate student to work as a junior curator position opening in the fall, but she said, apply. I did, and after an interview I was offered a summer position assisting with the summer camp. The job was part time yet paid enough to live on, so I took it and moved back to Tallahassee.

I love working with children, so having an educational position was great. The summer camp lasted for five weeks at the local community center. We, the assistant director of the Riley House and I, taught a class on African American history two to three times a week. We focused on a different theme every week, for example one week on Black scientists, one week on African American inventors, one week on the Middle Passage.

The age range was pre-K to 8th grade.  I worked with the younger ones. There were about 15 of them, and it proved quite a challenge to develop a lesson plan tailored to children between the ages of 3 and 11. I tried to use a lot of games for teaching the weekly topic; for the age group I was dealing with, hands-on activities were better to convey the content. I usually gave a mini-lecture at the beginning and then moved on to group activities.

I was surprised by how nervous I was about teaching summer camp. It is easy to think, ‘Oh, they are just kids,’ but children will let you know how they feel and if they don’t like something. I was also surprised by how much my public speaking skills needed improvement. To reach my child audience I had to be very clear and precise in what I was saying, and to do that successfully, I had to know my subject really well. Having to translate a complicated story into straightforward language wasn’t always easy. I’ve always had a great amount of respect for teachers, but after this experience, it has skyrocketed. I had wanted to be a teacher when I was younger, but now I know what a labor of love it is.

When we came to the end of summer camp, I asked if I could continue working at the Riley House museum. The Riley House is a museum and a research center for African American History and Culture. Built in 1890, it was the home of John G. Riley (1857-1954) a formerly enslaved man who rose to prominence as an educator and civic leader. He was also one of the few African American property owners in Tallahassee around the turn of the century.  The Riley House became a museum in 1995.

I became a museum educator, and as such I wear a lot of hats. I had already begun contributing to projects beyond summer camp. I was – and am – involved in bringing out a coffee table book, which involved a lot of research. As a History major, that is my strength and the area I have had a lot of experience in.

I do a lot of educational work. We have a 4th-grade program called ‘Blended Lives,’ where the students visit the Riley Museum, Goodwood, and the Historical Capital museum. I helped make the lesson plan for the Riley House tour. I am also involved in developing a children’s book. We develop the content and structure of the book and then a creative editor will make it child-appropriate with rhyming language and pictures.

We also have a four-part exhibit series coming up for which I am researching and writing. The exhibition is called ‘African Americans in Tallahassee.’ The first part will be on the antebellum period, the second on Civil War and Reconstruction, followed by the World Wars, and ending with the Civil Rights era. It will have a pre-exhibit in the visitor center to explain the Transatlantic slave trade.

Besides researching and writing, I am also involved in curating the exhibition, looking for artifacts that we can borrow from nearby museums. Another part of curating the exhibition is arranging the individual exhibits, making sure they are organized logically. I have to decide where things are displayed and how.

I also do a lot of office administrative work. We are in the process of making a documentary right now on the same theme of ‘African Americans in Tallahassee,’ for which I have begun scheduling the different people being interviewed.  The aim is to have it completed by 2025/26. The documentary will be based on interviews with people who can share their own or a family member’s experiences. These stories have been moving and made me appreciate oral history even more.

We also have a lecture series, for which I communicate with the speakers and figure out certain planning logistics. I also publicize the lectures.

The Riley Museum is funded by grants and donations. Another facet of my job is to help with grant writing and keep track of data to ensure that our operations continue to receive money.

Additionally, I do tours of the Riley House and supervise the interns at the museum. The Riley Museum is a small museum, so as you can see, everyone does a little bit of everything. Which is great, as I have learned many different things and have gotten hands-on experience doing them.

For me, the most exciting thing I do has been researching. I love going to the archives and finding information. There are quite a few areas where we don’t know much about Mr. Riley and his descendants, and it is always great to unearth a new fact. It is also the most “history” thing I do.

My advice to current History majors is: get involved with the department, go and meet your professors. Go to their office hours as often as you can. The best part of my undergrad was making connections with fellow students and with the faculty. Talking to your professors is really important, especially if you want to continue with graduate education.

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, I would tell the ‘one-year-ago’ me, that I don’t need to worry about not having figured out the rest of my life by graduation. At the time, it was very stressful because it seemed that almost everybody else had worked out what they wanted to do. And that is great if you do know that. But plenty of people also don’t, and I sure did not.

I would also tell my younger self to keep looking for opportunities, to be open to things. Don’t stress over things you can’t control but do take charge of the ones you can. The world will not stop turning because you don’t have your career nailed down at graduation. If you see an interesting job, apply for it, try it out. If you give it an honest try and find after a while it’s not for you, you will have still gained new skills and the realization that that job wasn’t for you. Bear in mind too, that your first job need not be your ‘forever’ job, but just a steppingstone toward jobs two or three.

Lastly, I would try to be kinder and less hard on myself than I was. I kept thinking that I was doing something wrong or that something was wrong with me, because I had no concrete career plans at graduation. With hindsight, I would say to myself: just try out what feels right at the time and be gentle with yourself as you navigate the new.