ANTH Alumni Make their Mark at National Park Service
When Brandon Bies earned his master’s degree in anthropology with a concentration in historical archaeology in 2003, he knew where he wanted to go to work full-time: The National Park Service (NPS).
“I kept an open mind thinking that I could work for a contracting firm- the route that a lot of anthropology people take- but I thought that a job with the National Park Service (NPS) would be a great job out of graduate school,” Bies said.
Bies did archaeology work at the Monocacy National Battlefield while completing his master’s at the University of Maryland. After earning his degree, he went on to hold multiple positions within the NPS, including the cultural resource specialist for George Washington Memorial Parkway, site manager of Great Falls Park, and legislative coordinator for the NPS’ National Capital Region. Most recently, Bies was named Superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park, where he will oversee the area’s 5,000 acres. Manassas National Battlefield Park is associated with two major Civil War battles and attracts 500,000 visitors annually.
But Bies wasn’t the only alum from the UMD Department of Anthropology to go on to work for the NPS. In fact, when Bies first began his master’s work at Monocacy, his boss, Joy Beasley, had just graduated from the department two years earlier.
“What put UMD over the top for me was that it was an applied program versus a purely academic track,” Beasley, who serves as Deputy Associate Director of Cultural Resources, Partnerships and Science of the National Park Service, explained. “I wanted to have some flex in terms of ultimately what direction I wanted to take in my career because I wasn’t coming in to find myself, I was looking to professionalize.”
Bies’ deciding factor was directly in line with Beasley’s:
“The whole point of the program at Maryland is applied anthropology, which is not just academic and theoretical stuff, but real world stuff,” Bies emphasized. “People can take what they learn and immediately enter the workforce.”
Rather than writing a thesis, master’s students design their own projects. Bies’ project was an investigation of a farm adjacent to the Monocacy National Battlefield, where he located a civil war encampment. Bies nominated this information to the National Register of Historical Places, leaving him with a 30-page product upon his graduation.
“I was a ‘shovel bum’ coming out of graduate school doing archaeology, and now it’s been 13-14 years and I’ve risen to be in charge of a national park,” Bies said. “I would not have had this career with the NPS if I had gone to another school.”
Beasley, who graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and spent eight years working for the Museum of New Mexico before coming to UMD, echoed Bies’ thoughts.
“I didn’t have a sense of how to go about getting a job with the NPS, but Maryland’s Anthropology Department had a co-op agreement with the NPS where the NPS would provide funding for archaeology projects for national parks in the National Capitol Region,” Beasley (back row, second from left) said. “Doing research and work at Manassas National Battlefield was my first introduction to the NPS, and it was because of the connection that I made through the four-year Manassas archaeology study that I was able to transition into a permanent federal position.”
“It was a dream come true,” Beasley went on. “If you had asked me five to 10 years ago or in 2001 when I completed my master’s if this would be my career, I would have told you that it wasn’t even on my radar.”
To current students, the National Park Service pair offer this advice:
“Making connections is critically important, so if you have an opportunity when you are in school to do an internship (even if it is unpaid), you never know who you are going to meet and how that experience will turn out,” Bies said. “You might make more money working in a restaurant over the summer, but if you can somehow stomach it, doing these internships or low-paying jobs in your field of interest will pay dividends.”
Beasley spoke more broadly, saying; “Ultimately, I think that your experience is going to be what you put into it. You never know how your career will unfold before you and the path that you are going to take, but if you keep an open mind and have a good attitude, things will work themselves out.”