by Teresa Shipley, ’05, ’09
“What are you going to do with a history degree?”
Turkiya Lowe, now 31, said she heard this question a lot during her undergraduate years.
“I guess I thought I would become a professor or eventually go to law school,” she said. But in 1999, the Howard University junior took a chance on an SCA internship with the National Park Service in Washington D.C. as a cultural resources intern through the Park Service’s Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program (CRDIP).
“The internship totally and absolutely changed my career path,” she said. “Before my internship, I had no thought to get into historic preservation or cultural resources or work for the National Park Service in general. The SCA internship was my introduction to that as a career, as a field that I can go into and make money on.”
Lowe’s summer internship consisted of reviewing literature for a congressionally mandated “theme study,” a historical study intended to evaluate nationally significant historic properties in the United States based on a single theme or topic. Lowe’s topic was racial desegregation in public education.
As a result, she made 12 recommendations for properties to be documented and nominated as National Historic Landmarks. Thanks to her work, one of those properties was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2001 by the Secretary of the Interior.
It was Howard University, Lowe’s alma mater.
She nominated Howard University for its role in preparing the legal arguments for the Brown vs. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court in the early 1950s, she said.
“It’s a really big deal because there are less than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the country. They form only about three percent of our federally recognized historic properties,” Lowe said.
After her internship, Lowe continued to work as a contractor for the NPS's regional office in Seattle doing historical research about properties associated with civil rights in the Pacific Northwest while she gained her Masters in 20th Century African American History from the University of Washington. She's about to complete her Ph.D. in the same subject with an added emphasis on women's history.
In 2006, Lowe returned to D.C. and called to see if the NPS office was hiring. It turns out the CRDIP needed a program coordinator. Toni Lee, the Assistant Associate Director of the Historical Documentation Program where Lowe is employed, said it was a good thing Lowe kept in touch after her internship ended.
“Because she kept working for us, because she kept in touch, she was in our minds as a great candidate for a job,” Lee said. “You can't just have a Ph.D. and walk in to one of these jobs. You have to have experience. She certainly developed that experience after she got to know us.”
Justin Chow, SCA’s Diversity Program Representative in Washington D.C., works with Lowe to hire interns for the program and said it’s great to see how she has come full circle.
“SCA, NPS and the CRDIP participants are all beneficiaries of her passion and dedication towards diversifying our nation's cultural resources and historic and heritage preservation field,” Chow said.
Lowe said the CRDIP is a way to introduce underrepresented communities to historic preservation as an actual profession as well as a way to ensure that cultural resource organizations truly reflect the diversity of the sites, histories and peoples they represent.
“Ultimately we hope that the preservation field will become diverse enough so that there isn’t a need to target underrepresented communities, but generally we want the program to grow because there’s still a lot of work to be done out in the parks and within cultural resources generally, even in the private and non-profit sectors,” she said.
Lee helped found the CRDIP and knew Lowe when she was an intern. She said using SCA interns for the program was an obvious choice. “It was clear SCA was the only one that had experience with national parks,” she said. "It just made sense, and it's been a good partnership.”
Lee also noted that Lowe made a big impression during her internship. “She was obviously very intelligent, a very smart student,” Lee said.
Lowe, who now manages other SCA cultural resource interns for the program, agrees that her path has been pretty cool. “I started out here, and now I’m kind of in charge of the program,” she laughs. “It’s really wonderful how life works out if you can transform the opportunities that you have into concrete realities.”
Photos, from top: Turkiya at the Newseum, Washington, DC; Turkiya and Justin Chow at Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, DC
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