Jessica Salow was 27 when she started her undergraduate degree at Arizona State University, and she already had a number of years of experience as a paralegal prior to her first year in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
After taking history in a general elective course, Salow chose it as her major; she thought it would be the most beneficial to her paralegal work. It didn’t hurt that she had a passion for deep dives into historical topics.
Adding political science as a minor was an accident, according to Salow. Her time at ASU (2007–2011) coincided with Barack Obama’s term as president of the United States. Salow said she became fascinated by him and his campaign and took courses to understand the theory behind it.
That's how Salow was introduced to the School of Politics and Global Studies and its Capital Scholars program. Still trying to figure out the next step in her career, Salow participated in the program that provides students with the chance to live and intern in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
“It changed my life on a level that is hard for me to explain,” Salow said. “Not only professionally but personally as well.”
It was Salow’s first time away from her family and husband for an extended period of time, as participants spend their entire summer in the nation’s capital. The transition wasn't easy, but luckily Salow had the support of new friends, like her roommate Mychael Clark.
“If it wasn’t for this program I would have never met Mychael and to think that she would not be in my life today if it wasn’t for this program makes it all the more special to me,” Salow said.
During her time in the program, Salow and the rest of the group got personalized tours of the State Department, the Treasury Department, the CIA and the Federal Reserve. According to Salow, these tours were special as they provided a chance to get an inside look into these historic institutions.
What she gained most from the program though was self-confidence, self-determination and everlasting friendships.
“I learned so much about myself and about the things in life that matter the most to me,” Salow said. “Every time I think about my experience and what it meant to me I begin to tear up because it was that profound.”
As a history major, Salow spent many days in the library doing research on projects. One of those projects was to study the Library of Congress collection of "Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1938."
“To say this collection had a profound impact on me is an understatement," she said.
After going over every possible narrative of the collection, Salow turned her research attention to collections available at ASU regarding the antebellum South and slavery in general.
“To hear the actual words from a slave who endured the plight of slavery living during the time these interviews happened fascinated me,” Salow said.
Looking back, Salow said this was the spark that got her interested in librarianship and archives in general. The idea of a career change was intimidating, but Salow had a newfound passion.
Salow is currently an archives specialist at ASU Libraries in the Distinctive Collections department where she assists with the implementation of an Andrew W. Mellon grant-funded project titled “Engaging, Educating, and Empowering: Developing Community-Driven Archival Collections”.
This three-year project was designed to build and expand community-driven collections, in an effort to preserve and improve Arizona’s archives and give voice to historically marginalized communities.
Outreach and the ability to share the stories of marginalized groups are Salow’s two favorite components to her position. She said it is important to show people in these communities that archival work and librarianship as a whole is a worthwhile profession for people of color.
Currently, Salow is in the process of relaunching the community-driven archives blog and working toward getting collections such as the Bj Bud Memorial Archives into classroom instruction here at ASU.
“This institution and particularly Tempe campus feel like home to me and will always have a huge place in my heart.”
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