Kelley Kimball has had a life-long love for history, significantly influenced by her Cherokee heritage. Family stories passed down through the generations gave her a personal connection with the past and an appreciation for how the past influences the present and future.Kimball enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College in 2010 to pursue her dream of attaining a degree. After 10 years in retail sales and waitressing, she wanted a career that was not only enjoyable, but would lead to a better life.
“As a young girl, I had a passion for history, so the decision of what to major in was easy,” she said. Going back to school in her 30s was initially intimidating, she said. “When I learned there were many other non-traditional students at GGC, I didn’t feel so alone.”
Kimball credits GGC’s small classroom settings for being able to develop meaningful mentorships with her professors. She assumed her only career option was teaching K-12 students, but she learned from her professors that there were many other opportunities available to history majors.
“I’ve had amazing instructors who each gave me something different that, as a whole, made for something incredible,” Kimball said. “Dr. Kathryn Gray-White fueled my love for the colonial period and taught me where to look for the best leads on new research. Dr. Carey Shellman taught me that the classroom isn’t confined to an academic setting. Dr. Seth Kendall taught me to discover connections. Dr. Richard Rawls helped me to improve the way I write, and Dr. Rebecca Flynn helped me find my voice.”
She embraced community service and began volunteering with the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in 2011. She helped with events such as “Civil War Holiday,” “Haunted Museum” and “More Herbs, Less Salt.” She also serves as vice president for the Gwinnett Historical Society.
She especially enjoyed volunteering as a tour guide at the Fort Hollingsworth-White House, a Banks County home built in the 1860s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This was one of my favorite volunteer experiences,” Kimball said. “When I cross into the original threshold of the 1793 portion of the building, the weight of history settles around my shoulders. To imagine that someone stood exactly in the same place more than 200 years before is an awe-inspiring feeling. For a moment, a bridge spans between me and that person.”
That person’s story, as well as the larger story of the house and land, helps to stimulate Kimball’s passion for history.
“It’s like coming home every time I volunteer there,” she said.
In addition to off-campus volunteer activities, Kimball had work-study jobs in the college’s Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Development. Her academic success placed her on the Dean’s List and the President’s List and qualified her for membership in Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society. She served as president of the Georgia Gwinnett History Club and presented research at multiple conferences.
Her primary research area was colonial Georgia’s silk industry, which culminated in her Senior Capstone paper, “Spinning the Fabric of Georgia: The Importance of Women and the Colonial Silk Enterprise.” She presented this research at the 2014 Annual Georgia Association of Historians Conference in Athens and as a part of a research group with Gray-White and fellow classmates at the 2013 University System of Georgia Teaching and Learning Conference.
After obtaining a Ph.D., Kimball wants to teach at the college level, so she can help inspire an appreciation for history and community in future generations of students.
“Interacting with the local community helps instill connections to the environment around us,” Kimball said. “Without maintaining our link to the past, we are at risk of losing our identity as a society and our connection to what made all that is around us possible.”
Kimball graduated with honors in the spring of 2014. Still active in the community, she serves as a National History Day judge for the Georgia Humanities Council.
Currently conducting contract research for independent clients, Kimball is preparing to enter graduate school in 2015. She said she hopes to one day return to GGC where she can give back some of all that her college experiences have given her.