GVMagazineSpring2016 - (Page 38)
ALU MNI NEWS
Show me the money
Alumna manages collection of 1 million
monetary objects at Smithsonian by Matthew Makowski
When Grand Valley alumna Hillery
York walked into her living center as a
first-year student, she carried a notecard
on which she had diligently mapped out
her life plan. This plan included using
her college years to prepare herself for
a career working with large animals as
As many students discover, however,
sometimes life doesn't care about
"their plan," but instead opens new and
exciting doors through which change
of direction can happen. During her
first year as a Laker, York developed an
affinity for academic history through her
general education courses.
"Sure, I was captivated by the
Hollywood glamor of Indiana Jones and
the mysterious history of ancient Rome,
but I had never seriously considered
academic history as a career," York said.
"Honestly, had I not been encouraged to
expand my academic horizons through
prerequisite classes, I probably wouldn't
have willingly taken history classes.
Instead I was laser-focused on a career I
thought I wanted."
This new interest led her down the
path to graduating from Grand Valley
in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in
history with an archaeology minor.
Fast forward four years, and York, from
Walker, is the collections manager at
the Smithsonian's National Museum
of American History in the National
As collections manager, York is
responsible for the more than 1.6
million monetary objects in the NNC's
collection, which include coins, paper
money, checks, tokens and more. This
means she is tasked with acquiring
new objects, cataloging and classifying
items, performing inventories and
rehousing initiatives, preparing
objects for display and tracking object
movement throughout all departments
within the Smithsonian.
"In my role, I am an advocate for
these objects that cannot speak for
themselves and am often called upon to
make informed decisions regarding their
care," York said. "My job ensures these
irreplaceable objects will be around
for research and display for the next
generation of museum professionals."
York said other objects found in the
geographically diverse collection range
from present day polymer banknotes
and 7th century Greek coins, to
medals and non-traditional monetary
objects, such as wampum, which are
small cylindrical beads made by North
American Indians from quahog shells
used as money or for decoration.
One of her favorite items in the
collection is a silver tetradrachm (coin)
from Ephesus in Ancient Greece dating
to 390 B.C. that features a bee on one
side. York's other favorite item is a little
and opportunities developing content
for exhibitions at Grand Valley, York
achieved a high level of professional
experience in a niche field. She
also broadened her knowledge by
participating in the History Club and
Archaeological Society, serving as
president of the latter for a year.
These experiences ultimately led to
her acceptance into graduate school
at George Washington University in
Washington, D.C., where she earned a
master's degree in museum studies in
While attending graduate school,
York began an internship in the NNC.
In January 2014, she was offered the
position of collections manager.
"I was instantly attracted to this
"I am thankful ... that I had individuals who were willing to
take on the extra burden of teaching me a field that is not
typically offered at Grand Valley ..."
Hillery York , '12, collections manager, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
"We have beard tokens from the
reign of Peter the Great that are really
wonderful," York said. "During this time,
you would have to pay money to have
a beard and you would carry the token
around with you as proof."
York attributed much of her current
career placement to the support from
faculty and staff members in the History
Department who guided her when she
chose to shift her focus to museum
studies after her first year.
"I am thankful every day that I had
individuals who were willing to take on
the extra burden of teaching me a field
that is not typically offered at Grand
Valley, as well as the time and effort
they spent to make my career dreams a
reality," York said.
Utilizing directed research classes,
internships at Michigan museums,
collection because it is so diverse,"
York said. "As I spent more time in the
collection, I began to realize that these
objects had a big story to tell and I was
interested in helping to share that story."
As collections manager, York has led
many initiatives for the Smithsonian,
including the completion of a massive
Rapid Capture Digitization program.
The program employed a conveyor belt
system to digitize more than 250,000
proof sheets from the Bureau of
Engraving and Printing collection in less
than five months.
"The Rapid Capture Digitization
project was one of my biggest
accomplishments so far because we
were able to gain control over a valuable
collection that had been neglected since
it arrived at the Institution," York said.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of GVMagazineSpring2016
Q&A Faite Mack
Saddle up: professor leads research on speech therapy technique
Cultural competency in health care
Hot ideas and inventions
Life before Louie: making a mascot