Curtis Holbert graduated from WOU in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in History and a minor in Writing. Holbert is from Burns, Oregon, but currently works as a Title Examiner in Redmond, Oregon.
What is your current position?
Title Examiner. I research deed records, as well as other public record items to issue reports on the Title of any real property, as well as offer some analysis and risk assessment relating to transactions (sale or refinance of a home, for example).
Why did you choose WOU?
Location and reputation. After I got out of the Army, I did what every other unemployed 21 year old does, and moved back in with my mom (who lived in Keizer at the time). After starting at Chemeketa (and moving out on my own again), Western looked like a good opportunity.
What advice do you have for future or current Wolves about life after college?
Spend some time thinking about the skills you are learning in a discipline, not just the direct information. Understanding “soft skills” and how you are learning to be good at History, or Anthropology, or Mathematics is going to go a long way in producing an eye-catching resume. Think about jobs that you have had or the jobs of people you know, and think about how the skills you’re learning in college could be useful in those different positions.
There are a lot of jobs out there that most people don’t know about. Start browsing job postings for local governments and industries you might not know much about, see what skills they are looking for. Even if your degree isn’t normally what they would think to look for, if you are learning the skills they want, then you have a good shot at entering the industry.
Do you have any meaningful anecdotes about professors or experiences you had at WOU?
No specific anecdotes that I can bring to mind. But, as a veteran, I went to college a little later. I also worked in Salem the whole time, so I wasn’t as involved in the campus life as some of my friends were. I had my fair share of setbacks (both my own fault, and due to external circumstances). A solid career on the other side of a degree is not only attainable with perfect scores. You should always try your best, but your life isn’t ruined if you take a break or have to limit your workload due to stress or money (I cannot even imagine handling school during the pandemic. Kudos to every student out there trying.). Of course the other side of “falling off the horse” is always “getting back on it.”
What were your favorite/most helpful History courses?
My focus was 19th Century Western US, so one of my favorites was a class on rail roads and building the modern economy of the United States. The level of corruption and greedy audacity of some historical characters was [as] entertaining as it was enlightening. My career has offered me an opportunity to find out how that extended to other types of infrastructure as well, such as irrigation canals and wagons. Having graduated, I find myself really appreciating the classes that were outside of my focus as well. They definitely helped me have a broader understanding of the world we live in when you know something about other cultures and places. A lot of the time, it’s those areas that I only studied a little that I find myself wanting to know more about now.
Career-wise, the History Department for a couple of terms (I think it was two, and not just one), paired up with Willamette University and the Oregon State Archives to offer some classes on Archives and Information Systems. I am convinced that including some of the experience from those classes (and the skills taught by Western’s History Department) are what got me noticed when I submitted a resume to my current employer.
How has your WOU degree shaped your career path?
Definitely more than I realized before I found my career. A Writing professor once told me that it was a little strange that schools in the Western U.S. put History in the Social Sciences, whereas back East they would be under the Humanities. I will always be thankful, though, that the department treated the curriculum as a professional training of sorts, and spent no small amount of time focusing on the skills we needed to be Historians, and not just the literature. I’ve enjoyed significant success at my job by (amongst other things) consciously focusing on those skills that I learned as an undergrad at Western (how to effectively research, how to approach data bases, how to correlate disparate data, etc.)
What was the experience of navigating a position that you were previously unaware even existed?
After I graduated (and a summer fighting wildfire), my wife and I quit our jobs and focused on moving to where we wanted to live (Central Oregon). We had both worked in food service for the last six or so years, and then were unemployed for about five months while we applied. By the time we got to month five, we were just shooting for anything that could get us over the mountains. When my current employer posted a job for just “office work,” I jumped at it, and got hired as a typist.
The following year was just a series of finding out how well it lined up with my degree and previous work experience as much as it was learning new material. We have these beautiful large volumes of data where the company would write in each deed (and other documents) every weekday for about 120 years. As a History major, it looks like an absolute treasure trove to me. Having experience reading verbiage from 130 years ago helped, and being able to navigate most archive systems after the initial introduction really helped me grasp the nature of what the job entails in a fairly short period. Title companies typically hire from real estate agencies and banking, which seems to work well for escrow services. When it comes to being a title examiner though, there seems to be an air of “you can’t teach this kinda stuff,” and I just think of all of the social science majors out there who do learn how to do most of the job in college, without learning the industry specific terms.
Of course there was also plenty of industry jargon to learn, and working for an insurance company (Title and Escrow companies provide Title Insurance) required rewiring my brain for not just finding/assessing information, but also doing risk assessment with that information.
What do you wish you knew before you graduated?
Well, I kind of wish I had known about title companies. But even outside of that sort of serendipity, I wish I had really thought about just how many jobs there really are out there. Most people interact with real property at some point in their lives, but most people don’t really know how Title works (legally, or the industry). It makes me wonder about how many similarly obscure jobs there are out there for other degrees and disciplines. Our economy and society requires so many tasks to be performed, monitored, or researched, but it seems most of us (me included) could mostly think of job options as “teaching, lawyer, doctor, generic office work, or artist.”
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? 10 years?
Hopefully still working this career, which is stable, has very long term employment, and is work I find engaging and rewarding. If not my current job specifically, I would like to think I would be doing something related. I work with engineers and surveyors, lawyers (practicing and otherwise), local government planners, and various bank personnel consistently. If I ever feel like I need to branch off in a new direction, I am a bit spoiled for choice without having to wholly leave the industry I’ve been learning since 2015. If I ever end up in some kind of leadership position, I hope I can develop a connection between universities and colleges and my industry. Again, I just think of all of the social science majors who could excel at it, and my industry hiring from other labor pools and wondering why it’s so hard to find an employee that can do this sort of work.