A self-described “history geek,” Sierra Newby-Smith always knew that history would be an important part of her education and career.
Newby-Smith has a double major in History and Comparative Languages and Linguistics and a minor in museum studies. After graduation, she’s considering either a master’s in Museum Studies or a doctorate in History.
In December she will make a presentation that puts several of her interests to good use. She will present a Gallery Talk about the Ronald Gallery’s current exhibition “Ideals and Realities of World War I,” a selection of prints from the Earlham Art Collection produced during 1914 to 1918. The talk is at 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, in Lilly Library’s Ronald Gallery.
Her interest in history began with long discussions with her grandmother that connected the family’s genealogy to the Mayflower and England.
“My grandma had a pewter plate and cup from the Revolutionary War from her ancestors,” she says. “My grandma talking about family history and genealogy got me started, but what keeps me coming back are all the questions and how history relates to the present. We got here somehow, and history provides the context of how we got here. There’s always something new because we are always making history.”
A summer spent as a tour guide at a local museum during high school helped to reveal her passion.
“I found that I could actually do something with history to earn a living,” she says. “I love going through archives. There’s a rush that goes with it when I have a new fact or a new connection. I love connecting the dots. It’s exciting to see. It’s like a dark map and the lines that connect the dots light it up and make the connections visible.”
Earlham’s Library of Congress May Term and an internship cataloging the private collection of retired Indiana Senator Allen Paul cemented her ideas.
Having studied Spanish and French, Newby-Smith initially pursued CLL thinking that it would aid her work in history in a variety of ways, such as interacting with primary sources, but now she sees the skills and knowledge the CLL major bestows are distinct ways of learning and researching, specifically in interacting with people.
“Being able to communicate and interact with people, that piece is now more relevant,” she says. “I’m really thinking about how global we’re becoming. There’s so much to learn from other people. You’re gaining perspective, something you wouldn’t have had otherwise, and to me that’s amazing.”
Equally important to her development at Earlham has been Newby-Smith’s involvement with Quaker Fellows.
“During Quaker Fellows, I’m exercising a different part of my brain, and also my heart to some degree,” she says. “Quaker Fellows is a safe and challenging space for me to interact with others and be who I am.”
She credits Quaker Fellows, a scholarship program that focuses on community, spirituality and leadership, with helping her to acknowledge and express her spirituality.
“I’ve been going to Quaker meeting since I was a baby, but at my meeting most folks are over 60. And they’re amazing mentors, but I’d never had the chance to interact with Quakers my own age, that was a completely novel idea for me.
“It was difficult to talk about faith and religion, and I was not equipped to have conversations about faith,” she says. “All of a sudden I was having conversations about spirituality with people my own age, and they were real meaty discussions.
“Quaker Fellows has provided the tools and people who I can talk to, and they challenge me to discover and develop my faith and spirituality.
“Before there was Sierra-who-would-go-to-meeting-on-Sunday, and then there was Sierra for the other days of the week. Being on this campus molded those two into the one person I am today.”
The academic and spiritual combination Newby-Smith chose at Earlham has helped her to connect the dots in her life for a more fully-informed career path.
“Earlham had a lot of little things that I wanted when I first came, and after being here for four years, I realize how key those little things actually are.”