Alumni Spotlight: Olivia Hathaway

Headshot of Olivia Hathaway

Everything has history. Everything, the trees and art have history, and they’re tied to someone somewhere. And so just being able to look at anything and know that you can try and find the picture of it is invaluable.

Olivia Hathaway graduated from Western in 2017 with a major in History and a minor in Public History. After graduating Olivia was hired on as a National Park Ranger at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, to talk about the wars and the piracy the island has seen. Currently, Olivia works at the Statue of Liberty as a historic interpretive park ranger.

What sparked your interest to work for the National Park Service? How did you get started?

Well, I knew it was a job because way before any of us were born, my mom was a park ranger. But my very first spark of interest was when I was 15, and we took a family trip to the East Coast, and I got to go to Independence Hall. And the feeling that that room gave me made me want to spark that feeling in other people. And that’s what interpretive park rangers do. So, I intentionally studied history and public history to go into the field of interpretive park ranger. This is my third season in the park service.

So, what’s a typical day like working at the Statue of Liberty?

We do get moved from island to island. We’re one park, but we’re two islands. So usually, I’m at the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes they have me working on Ellis Island. But [at the] statue, I would get to work and then we get our schedules, [which are] different every single day. And then we move every hour. So, we’ll be stationed either inside the monuments or in the museum or at the dock, greeting people and helping them get to the right boat, you know, to the right state, back to either New York or New Jersey. Right now, because just the pedestal is open, when we work in the monument, we’re only in the pedestal part. The statue itself is not open yet, so I haven’t been working in the crown yet. But when that opens, I’ll also be scheduled to work in the crown.

How did you feel that your time at Western helped to prepare you for where you are now?

As a historic interpretive park ranger, I thought that it prepared me wonderfully for wheream now. Every park ranger must write their own program. So, if you are at a national park and you go to a Park Ranger program, that Ranger wrote that and they did all the research, they did all the reading for it, and they verified all their sources and they wrote that program, no matter how long it was. So just being able to know where to go to find research on when the Statue of Liberty was a lighthouse and knowing which sources to trust and where to find trustful information no matter what park I’m in, has been invaluable for the security as a park ranger. And knowing that I know I’m telling my visitors the truth in the history of where we are, because everybody deserves to know as much of the history of the site as we know and staying true to the historical context. So being able to research that and put it into practice in my programs and even just in conversation with people has been something that Western has given me.

What would you consider to be the most exciting part of your career, thus far?

I love getting to work at the Statue of Liberty, but as an interpretive park ranger, I did a war program at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. My war program covered four wars and at the end of the program an older gentleman came up to me and told me that he lived on the island during World War II, and he climbed the lighthouse and kept a lookout for U-boats. I got to ask him if I represented his life correctly, and he said yes. So, I got to talk to a primary source, essentially, and get feedback on how I represented his experience during World War II in that place. Just getting to talk to someone who lived through something I was giving a program on was hands down [the] highlight of my career. So, I love working at the statue and it’s been amazing, but you can’t talk to someone who was there when it was first put up in 1886.


How has COVID 19 affected the work you do and the nature of your work? How does it continue to affect it as well?

Thankfully, the statue is primarily an outdoor park. A huge effect is that the crown isn’t open. We can’t work in the crown. The pedestal only just opened in July. So right now, the biggest effect is that any interpreting I do, any telling of her story is primarily done outside. In addition, we didn’t start doing programs until two months ago. That was a huge effect because we are essentially hired to do programs. And so not being able to do programs for four out of the six months since I started my job was a huge effect of COVID 19. 

Thankfully, because I give my programs outside, I don’t have to worry about a mask. I’m able to stay six feet apart. Inside the pedestal, you can look up into the Statue of Liberty but it’s nothing like being in the crown. Actually being able to touch the copper. So, it has made a big difference in people’s experience in the park. And you can’t see quite as much of the symbolism on her from below as you can from above. You can’t see the broken chains at her feet, which are a huge symbol on the Statue of Liberty. You also can’t necessarily see the July 4th, 1776. So, it does make a big difference not being able to be up there. Someday I hope to be able to interpret from the Crown. But because I was hired in COVID and I’ve only ever worked during COVID at this park, I haven’t gotten to do crown duty with visitors yet.

Any historic home, I mean, all the Manhattan sites, those historic buildings, none of them are open. So, I think a lot of COVID 19 is affected by not being able to give programs as you would normally do or even just give tours because of how many people will come, which is a lot of what we do. I love getting to get a lot of people into what I’m talking about. And that’s not something I can do at Ellis Island or inside a building. So that has affected how we do our job as interpretive park rangers because our job is to talk to large groups of people. We can’t have the large groups of people, but it has made it a lot more personal. I can talk to a few people and really make a good connection. So, it has its pluses and minuses in that way. Unfortunately, it’s getting a lot colder, and we are still only doing things outside.

Do you have any reflections or advice for current history students?

Yeah, I think one of the things I loved was truly being able to find those primary sources. And it just gives me a really cool feeling as if you’ve just found a treasure. So just embrace the process. Research and find as many sources as you can because you get so much more access to that when you’re at school. I mean, I don’t even have quite the access I have working for the federal government, as I did at school: they give you so many databases at school that you don’t get outside of school. So just embrace that and dive down deep because this is a chance to be able to really find all that stuff that you may not be able to find if you need to find it later.

And learn to keep true to the context of our history, because it’s just such a great way of looking at what we’re studying [as] history students and being able to apply that anywhere you go, whether you’re going to be, you know, a teacher or work in something that has nothing to do with history. Everything has history. Everything, the trees and art have history, and they’re tied to someone somewhere. And so just being able to look at anything and know that you can try and find the picture of it is invaluable. So don’t lose the love of finding what really happened there and who it connects to because chances are it connects to all of us, even today.

View the full interview with Olivia here.