Traveling to Hawaii and Back in Time
When alumna Sarah Bellian came to Western Colorado University, little did she know she would find a calling that would take her back in time and to the island of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Bellian, who is now the curator of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor, found her love for history while learning about parts of the world she said she never knew were on the map.
“I was enjoying participating in Theatre as a freshman, (but) I wasn’t really sold on it,” said Bellian, class of ’06. “I did, however, absolutely love my history classes with Dr. Lewis, Dr. Stewart and especially Dr. Thiessen-Reily. I thought she was the coolest immediately. She is STILL the coolest.”
An Expansion of Historical Instruction
Bellian said it was social and economic history that truly sparked her interest, as it was more an expansion of historical instruction than what she received in high school.
“Sarah immediately made an impression on all of us in the History program at Western,” said Thiessen-Reily. “She had an insatiable curiosity about the past; was fearless in the questions she was willing to ask and would plunge into research to produce the most sophisticated essays.”
Following graduation at Western, Bellian earned her master’s from the University of Idaho, and went on to work at the Scurry County Museum in Snyder, Texas, and the Museum of the Gulf Cost in Port Arthur. There she learned another aspect of utilizing her history degree—writing books and magazine articles, running summer camps, and designing exhibits. She’s also been a guest on podcasts and developed skills in historic preservation.
Where Theory Meets Practice
When Thiessen-Reily was developing Western’s Public History program, she reached out to Bellian for advice and consultation as Bellian’s real-world experience working as a museum curator was highly valued. As a result, Western’s Public History program is a combination of courses which bring theory and practice together in a well-constructed program of study. The Public History emphasis is the fastest growing History program at Western.
“Bellian has been a most gracious resource for students in Western’s public history courses, providing guidance, advice and mentoring,” Thiessen-Reily said.
In March of 2019, Bellian was hired as the curator of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor at a very critical time—the museum was undergoing a $20 million renovation project. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum reopened for business in February 2021. With the update, Bellian said she has helped incorporate STEM education as a part of the museum’s mission, and she wants to continue to build ties with the local community in Honolulu. While the museum sees more than 400,000 visitors a year, there is room for improvement she said when it comes to engaging with local schools.
Past to Present
But what is most striking to her working at Pearl Harbor is what the museum represents of the past to the present.
“Working at Pearl Harbor still feels very strange sometimes,” Bellian said. “This is a site of such tremendous significance to so many people, and it’s honestly just humbling to look out the window some mornings, see a little sheen of oil on the water near the memorial, and remember that what happened here was one of the defining events of the 20th century. As WWII veterans continue to pass away, it’s strange recognizing that my generation – we’ll be the last to actually know them. We get to carry their memory into history. That’s a huge responsibility.”
Learn more about the History program at Western.
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit: Courtesy