Skills that Pay the Bills

Some light desk reading

Some light desk reading

Impacting the 9-5 with a History Degree

By Carol Ossenheimer

How anticlimactic life felt when my dream job was not handed to me the day after receiving my diploma (thanks Obama). With student loans looming, the best option for me at the time was to apply my History undergrad where it could really make an impact (i.e. whatever place would hire me). Trading in my late nights researching for days at a desk job did not mean I had to discard everything my history courses taught me. A constant interest for improvement, knack for organizing vast amounts of information, and a global mindset are unique abilities crafted as a history undergraduate and that when applied to any job, can make any history student a valuable member to whatever career path they take.  

When sharing our research and discussing readings in our history courses, we are encouraged to push and challenge the views of our classmates. This was a way for us to find gaps in each other’s arguments and strengthen one another’s critical thinking skills. From this practice, we develop a strong drive for improvement and a curiosity about how the world works. An office can be filled with individuals that are all too comfortable in accepting an outdated process as, “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” I was given that answer at my current job when I asked why everyone was throwing paper into the garbage cans. Shortly after, I talked to my supervisor and now every department in our building has a recycling bin. A small victory, but this is one of many examples where the hunger of a history major to look for new ways of thinking will drive you to seek solutions to problems others may have given up on or have not thought of. You may not always find ultimate solutions to every problem you encounter (welcome to Adulthood), but it is the drive to remain curious and seek improvement that moves your career forward, and may even encourage your colleagues to seek progress in their own work.

No history professor would accept a research paper without detailed evidence and a fine-tuned bibliographic citation. Such expectations craft history majors into tenacious beings when supporting our own arguments. We should take pride in our prowess to traverse fidgety microfilms, fading manuscripts, long-forgotten languages, and any other primary source we can decipher to support our findings. Gratefully I’m no longer required to use Chicago style citation to support my work, but the skill of organizing and interpreting vast amounts of detailed information can have the entire office see you as both a reliable and independent worker.  

 Co-workers are initially spellbound by the amount of emails I’ve kept and archived in my many digital folders, but when they require information from a specific email sent out six months ago, or that PDF the customer sent us last year, who do they seek for assistance? The History Major. Time is money in the 9-5 and being able to supply precise information in a quick manner makes you a reliable wealth of knowledge. Many of your coworkers can feel overwhelmed and bogged down by the amount of information that passes through shared emails, PDFs, Excels, and databases. Staying on top of the extensive amount of information will not only keep you organized and efficient, but make you someone that can work independently with minimal supervision, another company time saver.

A third skill we learn as history majors is the ability to see our lives on a global scale. One example of this would be understanding that other countries your company might work with have different cultures and holidays than we do in the States. This might sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised the shock expressions I receive from co-workers when I tell them our Thailand supplier is off for a week in the springtime when we in the States, are not.

Being aware of and respecting the holidays of my non-US suppliers requires me to plan ahead. Should a customer request an emergency order when my Thailand constituents are out of the office, I can support our customer’s needs without having to involve Thailand during their time-off. In return, my non-US suppliers know that my company is closed during the Christmas holidays and plan their needs around our downtime. Having a global mindset and being able to take a step back from ourselves and see how you fit in the world allows success in your work and relationships with those from a different culture than your own.  

While we may not always find ourselves in a job directly related to our field of study, it does not mean that we must abandon all our scholarly skills. There are multiple abilities aside from these three that I have developed from my time behind the tomes and while I do miss the academic ambiance this time of the year, I do enjoy reading a biography these days without needing to write a book review after.

The author out exploring

The author out exploring


Carol is pleasingly employed in the automotive industry as her company’s top Purchasing Planner and Import/Export Consultant. When she’s not on the 9-5 grind or brushing up on her reading, she’s baking, hiking, and saving up for her next travel adventure.

A Family Affair

Michigan’s Mexican-American Migrants

By Ethan Veenhuis

On 12 June 1993, the Frank O. Barrera Chapter of the American G.I. Forum held a ceremony in Flint, Michigan, to honor the Mexican American veterans of the Second World War who hailed from Genesee County. Private First Class Epifanio V. Barajas was one of the honorees that night. Barajas, a member of F Company, 47th Infantry, 9th Division of the U.S. Army during the war, was amongst the most highly decorated Latinx veterans from the state of Michigan. During his time in the army, he saw action in the North African theater, Germany, and France in the initial D-Day invasion force that landed on Omaha Beach. For his service the Army awarded him (among other medals), two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and special recognition for his skill as a sharpshooter.

Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1921, Barajas came to Michigan with his family sometime before the war began. The Barajas family worked as migrant farm labor in Texas picking cotton and other agricultural products whenever and wherever they could before following a wave of workers north to the upper Midwest and Michigan. According to the historian Steven Rosales, by the mid-1920s, agricultural workers of Mexican descent made up between “75-90%” of the work force in the sugar beet fields of Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and, of course, Michigan. These workers came to the region as migrant farm labor. Recruited in Texas these workers were promised free travel, high wages, and in some cases even a house to live in. Many of these promises fell through but were effective nonetheless as workers came by the thousands every year. They settled across Michigan especially in the cities of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Saginaw, where they found work harvesting sugar beets, cucumbers, apples, and cherries. When the United States entered the Second World War, many of these migrant farmers enlisted in the armed forces and served their country proudly.

After the war Barajas returned to Flint, and like so many others in Michigan’s Mexican-American community, took a job working for General Motors, raised a family, and found the better life that his parents had hoped for when they arrived in the early 1920s. Epifanio Barajas’ story is one small part of a much larger tale that began in Central Texas and found its conclusion right here in mid-Michigan. A story shared by thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans who came to the upper Midwest as migrant farm labor seeking the “American Dream” for their families, and wound up contributing significantly to their country in the process. This larger story is the focus of my current research and I plan to build and expand on what Steven Rosales began in his fantastic book Soldados Razos At War: Chicano Politics, Identity, and Masculinity in the U.S. Military from World War II to Vietnam.

Despite pioneering work on migration to Michigan, Rosales’ work on Mexican and Mexican American migration to Michigan is largely limited to the colonia in Saginaw and used in a discussion of life for these workers that lead up to their participation in the Second World War. My research goal and aspirations are to expand the scope of the project and include the rest of the significant Mexican colonias in the state. Furthermore, examine what life was like for these workers and their families leading up to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the war. By utilizing the lenses of labor, gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, immigration, migration, and cultural expression I hope to offer a more complete picture of our state’s often overlooked and erased Mexican American community during this significant period. It is incredibly important that we continually strive to revisit the moments in our history where entire groups of people have been relegated to the margins and create works that center their perspectives and magnify their voices. Since I quite literally would not be here without my abuelo, Private First Class Epifanio Barajas, telling his story and the stories of thousands of others like him is the very least I can do as a grandson and as a historian.


Ethan Veenhuis is a CMU History Masters Alumnus who graduated in December 2018. Ethan is a dog-dad from Flint, Michigan. His current research expands upon Rosales’ pioneering work, especially the Mexican-American story in Michigan. Further research interests are in Chicano History from the Second World War through the Civil Rights Movement. For more information or to contact him: veenh1ed@icmich.edu