Alumna Liesl Christman puts design expertise to work helping fellow citizens grapple with World War I
Most people would probably agree that the year 2017 is proving to be one for the history books. But if you ask Liesl Christman, it’s what happened a century ago that makes this year especially important.
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered “the War to End All Wars” alongside the Allies in a fight that began in 1914 and would last through most of 1918.
As the digital content manager for the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, Christman has been deeply involved in the 2017 centennial commemoration of that pivotal point in the global conflict.
“World War I is a part of American history that tends to be forgotten,” says Christman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2005. “But it has had a dramatic impact on our politics, history and so many aspects of our lives.”
Christman’s job involves making that impact relevant and interesting to modern audiences. And from the website and digital exhibitions under her care, to WWI veteran interviews from the 1980s she’s lately been revisiting, to the ways she contributes to marketing activities, the skills she mastered at UMSL serve her well on a daily basis.
“It’s all connected,” Christman says. “I may not be doing the kind of design that many people associate with graphic design, but all of this information design really does tie back into everything I studied at UMSL.”
While she began her undergraduate career in Rolla, Missouri, as a computer science major, the field just didn’t seem quite the right fit. Before long she chose a new path and transferred to UMSL.
“I visited campus, and I was just really impressed with how close-knit everyone was and how accessible the faculty were,” Christman says.
With much of her general coursework already behind her at that point, she was happy to dive directly into classes toward a BFA in graphic design. That focus still stands out as a key highlight of her years as a Triton.
“I loved that,” she says. “And I loved that all my classes were right there all together in the Fine Arts Building.”
Another high point for Christman was the month she and a handful of UMSL classmates spent in Senegal along with one of their graphic design professors during a winter break between semesters.
They attended an international arts festival in the West African country – and helped photograph, document and create promotional materials for the event while they were there.
“It was just a fantastic trip,” says the Missouri native. “We got to interact with artists from all around the world.”
After graduating, Christman embarked on what she now describes as “probably the most indirect route possible” toward her current career.
As an upperclassman at UMSL, she completed an internship in the field of letterpress printing, and that led to a full-time job with Richard Baker, a St. Louis-based conservator of rare books and paper documents. Within a couple years, Christman determined to pursue a graduate degree in art conservation and headed for the University of Delaware.
But, like with computer science, it wasn’t the right fit – and that was a difficult moment for her. She’d just moved across the country, gotten into a great program, and coming to grips with all of that was a turning point.
In 2010, she moved back to the Midwest and took a library assistant job at Mid-Continent Public Library and then moved on to Kansas City Public Library, where she was a digital content specialist and the library system’s social media lead.
While she enjoyed all of those roles, something still seemed to be missing. She longed to be more involved in various projects from the ground up.
That’s when the opportunity at the National World War I Museum and Memorial came across her radar – a role that has her collaborating with partners near and far as well as constantly drawing on the lessons she learned at UMSL more than a decade ago.
“I definitely feel like I finally found my niche here,” Christman says.
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