Written by Allie Shambaugh-Miller, Drake University Class of 2023 and part of the team that successfully added Woodland Cemetery to the Network to Freedom, through the Forever Free Pilot Mentoring Project.

The Forever Free Pilot Mentoring Program provided me with extraordinary opportunities to engage in historical research that are not typically accessible to students. As a history major in college, I was familiar with primary source research and historical analysis, but my exercise of these skills was limited to essays and projects in the classroom. Forever Free empowered me to take these skills into the real world to participate in recovering tangible history in my community. My mentor, Ricki King, offered insight and direction with her experience as a genealogist. I am also extremely grateful for the insight and dedication that my partner, Maddie Cason, provided.

Forever Free opened up numerous opportunities for me in the professional realm of history. Maddie and I presented our research in July of 2021 at the Iowa History 101 series hosted by the Iowa State Historical Society. After the presentation, a representative from the Iowa Genealogical Society asked if I would write an article about my experience engaging in cemetery research for their publication, the Hawkeye Heritage (my article will likely appear in the Winter 2021 edition). I was also interviewed by local news stations about the project and recorded half a dozen biographies for the Woodland Quest historical preservation project which allows cemetery guests to scan QR codes at graves and watch recorded interviews about interned individuals. With the publication of our Network to Freedom report, a presentation with the state historical society, another article with the Iowa Genealogical Society, and multiple other interviews, I had suddenly expanded my resume within just a few months! The research I completed through Forever Free was crucial to my development as a professional historian, and I am extremely grateful for the myriad of other opportunities it has already led to.

It is often difficult to find opportunities as a college student to engage in historical research with a tangible impact.

The Forever Free Pilot Mentoring Program provided a space where I could develop my skills, consult an experienced mentor, work within a collaborative team, and turn my research into a physical reality that any person can interact with. Forever Free has been pivotal in my personal and professional development as a student and historian. I am grateful for my experience and everyone who made it possible, and I sincerely hope that more students with a passion for history will be able to access the opportunities that Forever Free makes possible far into the future.