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Dawn Digrius Smith C’99, G’05,’07 on Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies’ History & Culture Program

“History is so nimble and flexible and provides opportunities across perceived boundaries that allows you to be really marketable in the workplace”

September 2023 – Dawn Digrius Smith C’99, G’05,’07 began her journey at Drew University as an undergraduate student studying anthropology and archeology.

She later returned to Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies to pursue her PhD in Modern History & Literature, now called History & Culture.

Today, Digrius Smith is the president and founder of DMDS Partners Inc., a full service evaluation and applied research corporation that works predominantly with the education and nonprofit sectors. Since the company’s inception in 2021, they have been able to secure over $34 million in funding for their clients.

“Part of my success stems from my experience as a researcher and earning my PhD,” said Digrius Smith. “You have to not only understand how to conduct research, but also be able to communicate it effectively so that people can understand it, especially for grant proposals.”

“I did not take the trajectory of staying in academia,” she continued. “There are a lot of opportunities to do this kind of work that is really beneficial, especially since I work with the education and nonprofit sectors.”

We spoke with Digirus Smith about her journey from Drew to academia to running her own business. Read on to learn more.

Why did you pursue an advanced degree in history at Drew?
I graduated from Drew’s College of Liberal Arts, majoring in anthropology and archeology. After completing a graduate program elsewhere, I was looking for another graduate program to pursue my PhD. Because I had been at Drew and loved Drew, it was a no brainer to come back.

The faculty in the history department were so broad in their scope of expertise and so supportive. It was a small department that allowed for a lot of faculty interaction. It was helpful in both shaping my work and completing the program. 

What is it important to obtain a History & Culture degree now?
Having a background in history has real value in understanding current events, politics, and economics. It’s critically important. 

What are the transferable skills of an advanced degree in history?
There are so many transferable skills that you’ll hone as a graduate student. Just because you have an advanced degree in history doesn’t mean you have to have a career in history. There are many skill sets that you develop—critical reading, effective research, analytical thinking, grant writing, project management, team building, the ability to communicate effectively and present your work—which all transfer over to a lot of different industries outside of academia, including the corporate sector.

Plus, you’ll gain all the soft skills you need—organization, self-assuredness, and confidence—which cross boundaries.

When I was an assistant professor of history at Stevens Institute of Technology, many of my undergraduate students seeking legal careers pursued history because they could gather more experience with hands-on research and digging deep into understanding critical topics or themes.

Any advice for those considering the History & Culture program at Drew?
If you’re nervous about what your future will look like after graduation, don’t be. It’s wide open. If I can serve as an example, my trajectory has moved from the traditional academia pathway as a faculty member. I realized there was so much more potential and opportunities beyond that. From a financial perspective and economic success post graduation, there’s a lot of places you can land that are sustainable as well as gratifying. 

Having an undergraduate degree is important, it lays the foundation. Advanced studies really do put a lot more on the student to be able to develop those skills which are critical for success in the world.

I would encourage students who are contemplating the History & Culture master’s program to consider it strongly, do their research to determine the best fit for them, talk to alums who have completed their advanced degrees to learn where they are now, what they have learned, and what they wish they had learned. 

History is so nimble and flexible and provides opportunities across perceived boundaries that allows you to be really marketable in the workplace. It’s just a matter of changing the mindset of those that believe history has no value. Look towards the future because it is boundless. 

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