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Public history leads grad to position in Nevada governor's office

May 05, 2011

Past and future will intersect for Dana Bennett when she receives her Ph.D. in public history this spring. A fascination with historical research provided a springboard to her current position as senior researcher for Gov.  Brian Sandoval of Nevada and the opportunity to help form future public policy.

Bennett worked in both the public and private sector of public policy and legislation for 18 years before arriving at ASU in the fall of 2006.

While attending a conference on the Tempe campus, “a bird whacked me in the head,” says Bennett with a laugh. “It deliberately dove at me out of a tree near the MU.” The serendipitous smack upside the head and the strong encouragement of Professor Noel Stowe inspired her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in the public history program at ASU.

“After 20 years away from school, my biggest challenge was to remember how to be a student,” she says. “Working long hours at a job is not the same as working long hours to finish a seminar paper or manage hundreds of pages of reading. I found my classes at ASU to be both challenging and invigorating.  ASU history professors are superb scholars.”

Although Noel Stowe passed away in 2008, Bennett continued with Susan Gray as her dissertation adviser. “She is a remarkable historian, and her guidance has been invaluable,” says Bennett, who is graduating with a 4.0 GPA.

Bennett’s dissertation examines women legislators and tax policy development in Nevada before 1960. “I found that these women legislators had a keen fiscal sense and that their experiences as businesswomen shaped their experiences as lawmakers,” she says.”They have been forgotten in the years since, so it was a pleasure to bring them to the forefront again.” 

A few of Bennett’s many accomplishments at ASU include working with the Arizona Division of History and Archives to compile oral histories of many of Arizona’s most prominent legislators and working as a policy analyst at ASU’s Morrison Institute on Public Policy.

She recently received the Alumni Award for Excellence in History Graduate Studies. “I'm thrilled to be accepting this award,” she says.” It's a real honor and a fine finish to my ASU career.”

Much of Bennett’s research and publications have focused on Nevada, the state where she was raised.  In 2007, she was honored by Nevada’s congressional delegation for her book A Century of Enthusiasm: Midas, Nevada, 1907-2007, an account of 100 years in a small mining town in northern Nevada.

Bennett has been working in the senior staff position in the governor’s office since January of this year. “He generously allowed me to work half-time so I could finish my dissertation and graduate on time in May.”

She looks forward enthusiastically to working full-time after graduation in a position that can help inform future public policy by knowledge of the past.

"Governor Sandoval has a keen sense of history and appreciates the importance of understanding how a particular policy may have developed over time,” says Bennett.  “The ASU Public History program certainly prepared me well for a career that involves both history and public policy."

Contributed by Michele St. George, Graduate College