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Spotlight: Ashley O’Hara, Alumna

Spotlight: Ashley O’Hara, Alumna

Learning Something New Every Day

What Western Colorado University alumna Ashley O’Hara likes most about her job is that she learns something new each day. As the curator of the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum, she creates new exhibits, writes grants, performs research, plans events and works on the collection in the mountain town with a mining history.

A non-traditional student who returned to school to become a teacher, O’Hara, class of 2021, found there were many ways she could use her history degree to share lessons of the past.

“I took the History of Latin America my first semester and fell in love with historical inquiry and the connections we can make to the past,” O’Hara said. “From there, I realized that there were many different career paths I could take that did not have me confined to a classroom.”

Pivoting Studies

After talking with Heather Thiessen-Reily, Ph.D., O’Hara changed her academic emphasis to Public History.

“In addition to her interest in history and teaching, Ashley was alsoAshley O'Hara with bikes in the background passionate about public lands, community and national parks, so Public History just seemed to be made for her,” said Thiessen-Reily. “She was an intern for a research and development grant for a Digital Junior Ranger Program for the National Historic Trails Program through the U.S. National Park Service supervised by Dr. Melanie Armstrong and I think that is when Ashley realized there were educational aspects to Public History that she could fully embrace.”

Upon graduation, it was Thiessen-Reily who suggested O’Hara apply for the curator position at the Crested Butte museum, where she said there is “a lot going on.” 

Every Day is Different

“A previous Western History graduate, Nel Burkett, had held the position and when she decided to pursue a new career path related to her Western Masters in Gallery and Museum Management, I thought of Ashley immediately,” Thiessen-Reily continued. “She could bring experience, maturity and creativity to the museum to continue to build on what Nel had established.”

The museum was created in 1993 and found a home in 2003 in Tony’s Conoco, a beloved local landmark and gathering spot. It features Crested Butte’s rich history, focusing primarily on the development of the community from mining to tourism in less than two centuries.

“As overwhelming as this position can be at times, I love being involved in so many aspects at the museum,” said O’Hara. “Every day is different, every day I am learning something new and mostly, I get to be creative and express myself through creating exhibits, writing and programming.”

Future Opportunities

O’Hara intends to develop her ability to curate historical materials while at the museum, and to enjoy the historical environment. She would like to earn a master’s degree in Public History some day and to land her dream job working for the National Park Service.

But for right now, she’s happy being in a field that continues to pique her interest.

“All in all, I love learning and this is a perfect fit,” she said.

Learn more about the Public History program at Western.



Author Credit: Chris Rourke

Photo Credit: Courtesy

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