FSU History Alumnus Spotlight: Jeffrey Henley (MA 2020)

Fri, 09/23/22
Jeffrey Henley

Jeffrey Henley graduated with an MA in Historical Administration and Public History from FSU in 2020. He then went to work as a Cultural Resources Associate and Project Coordinator at SJCA in Indiana. Founded in 1998 as Stephen J. Christian and Associates, SJCA is a civil engineering company which provides services such as bridge design, land surveys, and roadway designs. Jeffrey’s job is to ensure that the company is in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as administered by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Specifically, Jeffrey’s work involves researching new transportation-related projects to see if any historical properties will be impacted, and then making reports and recommendations if that is the case. Jeffrey explains that this type of work “is very different from the type of research in the MA program.” For one, while most academic research is performed solo, Jeffrey is part of team that he works with. The team goes into the field and works together to determine if historic properties are located at any given site. Jeffrey also describes his research as “an abbreviated version of academic research,” because each research request has very tight deadlines. Yet Jeffrey needs to ensure that the report and findings he produces are thoroughly researched.

Jeffrey found the job at SJCA while interning as part of the Public History program at FSU. Jeffrey applied to the Indiana Department of Transport to be their Governor’s Summer Intern for Cultural Resources because the location suited his family. There he learned how historical preservation is important in the ‘real world,’ especially as applied to government plans and projects.

Once Jeffrey graduated, the connections he had made during his internship, helped him land the job at SJCA in Indiana. To this day, the connections he established during the internship have made his work easier and more enjoyable, as “all the people I submit my reports to are the people I worked with through my internship, [which] makes for easier communication.”

The most exciting part of working for a civil engineering company is the variation in the day-to-day activities. Jeffrey spends his day either evaluating new projects as they are submitted, reviewing reports to ensure that they are complete, or doing his favorite part of the job—going out to future project sites to assess the area that will be impacted by the proposed project design. “It’s a really interesting job, because I get to be out in the field,” Jeffrey explains. One of the more interesting sites Jeffrey visited is Culver Military Academy in Culver, IN. A new multi-use trail system is proposed for the Town of Culver and the trail system will be adjacent to Culver Military Academy; therefore, Jeffrey needed to visit the Academy and the surrounding area to determine if any historic properties existed and if they would be adversely affected by the proposed project. Jeffrey found the Academy, founded in 1894, to be especially beautiful, full of amazing Collegiate Gothic buildings sitting on the shore of Lake Maxinkuckee, the second largest lake in Indiana. Through his research into the history of the area and the Academy, Jeffrey has recommended that the Academy is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It remains to be seen if the Indiana State Historic Preservation Office staff (who reviews all such recommendations) agrees.

Earning his master's degree through the Public History program at FSU was foundational to Jeffrey’s current position. He is still using books he read in graduate classes in his job.  In his Historic Preservation class specifically, Jeffrey read A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester, which is also the go-to reference work that SCJA uses. It’s “neat to say I have my own copy,” states Jeffrey. 

Jeffrey also explains how much the graduate school classes helped him grow intellectually.  Professor Koslow especially was a vital part of his learning journey. “Historians generally have to be curious people and taking a couple of classes helped me to think about the possibility of history outside of the classroom." Professor Koslow’s mentorship helped Jeffrey to cultivate that curiosity and improved his ability to ask questions of his research. This in turn allows him to write succinct reports for his company.

For those looking for a career in consulting for civil engineering projects, Jeffrey suggests becoming versed in architectural history. While classes like Historic Preservation provided a good foundation, Jeffrey still had a lot to learn while on the job, especially with regards to architectural history.

Another thing to remember is that “a lot of this work is done in the private sector by in-house engineering firms,” so when you see an engineering firm (like SCJA) looking for a historian, they’re seeking someone who can do what Jeffrey does. Jeffrey is emphatic that getting trained in public history and then working in his current job has broadened his perspective on what one can do with a history degree. “Before I thought, the only thing you could do with a history degree was to become a professor…but now I know there’s a whole world of opportunities for those with history degrees.”