Eva Blankenhorn (’21), Making and Interpreting History
Eva Blankenhorn (Penn State RPTM 2021) knew that coming to Penn State would offer her many opportunities. In her current position as an Interpretive Ranger with the National Park Service at the National Eisenhower Historic Site (adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield), Eva is able to mix her love of the outdoors and of history.
Eva’s path through middle school and high school almost took her in a different direction. A talented singer and songwriter, Eva spent time in Nashville, writing and recording songs. As she started to see some success and a growing fame with her craft, she sat down with her parents to have a frank conversation. “It was fun, but I really just wanted to be a normal high school kid.” She applied to Penn State and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I came to Penn State and I did not know what I wanted to do,” said Eva. “I was a big football fan. I used to go to the games with my Dad and Grandfather.” Eva came to campus as a pre-major in Kinesiology. Early in her coursework, she enrolled in RPTM 120 – Leisure and Human Behavior. “Zach Miller (Assistant Research Professor and Postdoctoral Research Associate in RPTM) came to class to talk about the work he was doing with the Protected Area Research Collaborative. It really sparked my interest. I met with Zach after that class and changed my major to RPTM the next week.”
During her time at Penn State, Eva was a Digital Humanities Intern with Penn State’s Richards Civil War Era Center using microfilm scanners to analyze news articles from Centre County, Pennsylvania in the early 1900's. She accepted a summer internship with Gettysburg National Military Park. Despite her love of history, Eva ruled out majoring in history for her undergraduate education. “I wanted something hands on – something that would allow me to make a practical application of my education.” The summer at Gettysburg sealed it for her. The RPTM major would get her there. She returned to Gettysburg the following summer, this time not as an intern but as a Seasonal Ranger with the National Park Service. It is rare that undergraduate students have the opportunity to earn the official National Park Service ranger hat.
With a focus in outdoor recreation within the RPTM major, Eva participated in Penn State’s SEED (Student Engagement and Experiential Discovery) semester at Penn State’s Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. She also completed RPTM 335 – Outdoor Recreation Consortium in the Great Smoky Mountains. “I remember standing in an ice-cold stream, looking for salamanders as part of the citizen science project on Consortium,” said Eva. “Meeting new people who have the same values and who care about service and learning. I remember thinking ‘This is it.’ That was what I wanted to do for my career.”
Eva completed RPTM 495A (internship) at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. After graduation, she returned to Gettysburg and the Eisenhower Farm. In her role, she is a park guide and front-line historical interpreter. As a ranger, she is also involved in long-term planning for the site as well as developing and delivering programs and special events. Some of the programs for which Eva has taken the lead include the BARK Ranger program as well as a partnership with the South Mountain Audubon Society to bring regular bird walks and birding programs to the site. “For the Audubon program, I was inspired by my time at Shaver's Creek during the SEED Semester! It's blossomed into a great community partnership that brought a ton of new visitors to the site.”
Last summer, Eva developed and launched a brand-new Summer Reading Adventure for children aged 2-7 called “Growing with the Eisenhowers.” This eight-week program was offered to local families and consisted of a thematic story time and hands on activity and craft. Eva described the program with excitement. “We made vegetable art, explored inchworms, planted radishes in the Eisenhower Garden, and even built giant spiderwebs! It was a brilliant program that will hopefully become a staple in our summer programming and offerings.
Eva and her husband Nathaniel have two dogs, Enzo and Lupa, both of whom just made their first trip to Beaver Stadium for the THON 5K. Eva has continued her studies at West Virginia University in Public History, earning a Cultural Resource Management Certificate. Her advice to current RPTM students is this. “Definitely sit in the front of the classroom,” she laughed. “Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to connect with people around you – other students, faculty. Make connections.”
Someone once said, “Never doubt that you can change history. You already have.“ Eva Blankenhorn is making history.