Study of History Prepared Alum for a Successful Career in the Affordable Housing Sector

By Samantha (Pratter) Sowards, M.A. (‘05)

Sowards and daughter

Samantha (Pratter) Sowards with daughter Trudy.

I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history from SDSU in 2005. As an undergraduate, I was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Alpha Theta, and Golden Key Honor Societies and won the Richard T. Ruetten Memorial Scholarship.

As a graduate student, I studied race in American history during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. I also served as a Teaching Assistant for two semesters. In 2008, I completed my thesis, Racial Fantasies of the Gilded Age: Making Race in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper from the Reconstruction South to the Multiethnic West, which is available in the SDSU library.

In 2008 I was hired by Nan McKay & Associates, a local, woman-owned business that is a leader in providing innovative housing solutions and compliance services to the affordable housing industry. NMA helps house low-income families all over the country and helps ensure that finite housing resources get to the people that need them most. As the manager of curriculum development and a senior trainer, I work both internally within my organization to edit our wide array of seminars and products and externally with affordable housing providers and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I have become a leading expert in low-income housing program regulations and compliance, and I travel nationwide training and consulting on these topics. I am also in charge of writing and editing NMA’s training materials and products for over 50 different seminars as well as consulting with HUD to create program regulations and guidance that are used by all affordable housing providers nationwide. Without everything I learned in the Department of History, I would not be where I am today.

My job requires me to be a diligent reader, prolific writer, patient editor, and clear teacher – all of which I learned through my time in the Department of History. Writing my thesis taught me how to interpret complex topics and be a thorough and competent writer. Being a TA helped me learn how to present to large groups and break down complex ideas in a way that’s meaningful and understandable. Graduate seminars taught me to read abundantly, dissect information, think critically, and edit other people’s work.

I know a lot of people think that a degree in history means that your options are limited to a small number of careers, but it truly teaches you skills that are invaluable for so many professions. Before I started my work in the affordable housing industry, I had no idea that this world existed, but the skills I learned at SDSU opened this world up for me.