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Melissa Magnuson-Cannady does something not many Americans can do. She literally walks in the footsteps of her ancestors every day as an employee of the National Park Service at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
More than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. via the Ellis Island immigration station during its peak immigration years, from 1892 to 1924. Among them were Gustaf Magnusson and Ida Gustafson, who became Magnuson-Cannady’s paternal great-grandparents.
Gustaf and Ida, both from Sweden, arrived at Ellis Island in March and in November of 1910, respectively. They eventually met in Iowa.
Magnuson-Cannady, a student in the University of Wisconsin-Stout online M.S. education program, works in the same building where they first set foot in America.
“I feel a connection to them because when I am in the Baggage Room or the Registry Room, which is better known as the Great Hall, I know that they were there just over 100 years ago, and I think I have an idea of what they experienced on Ellis Island,” Magnuson-Cannady said.
Magnuson-Cannady and her husband, William, moved to New York City in 2006 for work. She has been working at the museum since 2009. She recently applied to a museum internship program and, to her delight, was accepted. As a student trainee-training specialist, her job responsibilities are a cross between a park ranger and an education specialist.
“I develop education programs and other programming for children and work on the For Teachers section of the website. I love working with students and teachers to help students learn about Ellis Island and immigration,” she said.
Prior to her job at the museum, she worked at the Statue of Liberty National Monument, Federal Hall National Memorial and the African Burial Ground National Monument. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
The most rewarding part of her job at the museum “is when visitors make a connection with the site; it's very powerful to see people of all ages find their personal connection with a place of historical or cultural significance,” she said.
Originally from Stoddard, near La Crosse in southwestern Wisconsin, and an alumna of UW-La Crosse, Magnuson-Cannady enrolled in 2011 in Graduate School at UW-Stout. Because of the relatively few positions in education with the National Park Service, she is pursuing a master’s degree to improve her opportunities for employment and “keep a competitive edge,” she said.
“Ideally the degree will help me to obtain permanent employment working as an education specialist either at Ellis Island, or at another National Park Service site or possibly in education at another museum,” she said.
Choosing UW-Stout has been a good fit for her. “I found UW-Stout's program to be perfect. And, as a bonus, I was already familiar with the UW System,” she said.
Magnuson-Cannady keeps busy between her job and online classes. She takes five to six credits each fall, spring and summer semester and works full time.
Even though she is enrolled at UW-Stout, she has as yet to set foot on campus. “I have only visited the campus through pictures on the website,” she said.
She plans to visit campus in 2013 when she graduates.
For more on UW-Stout’s Graduate School programs, go to the website.