Melanie Fuechsel was in middle school when she saw that old Spanish coin peeking out through the crust of the Earth. The piece from the past, uncovered during her first archaeological dig, would color her future.
“It was the coolest thing they’d found to date,” said Fuechsel, who graduated from Mary Washington in May with a bachelor’s degree in historic preservation and a Geospatial Information Science Certificate (GISc). “After that I was hooked.”
Now a GIS intern at the Fortune 500 engineering firm AECOM, she was drawn to UMW for its unique historic preservation program. Despite her late start – she transferred from a community college – she embodied the spirit of a liberal arts and sciences education, soaking up hands-on learning experiences, attending conferences across the country and taking courses in everything from forensic archaeology to cell biology. Finally, at the place where antiquity meets technology, she found her sweet spot.
“I just want to try it all,” said Fuechsel, whose senior capstone project, exploring the evolution of segregation in Fredericksburg, melded her two courses of study. The remote sensing she learned in the GISc program, for example, let her make maps showing the people and periods she explored with historic preservation professors.
Born in Berlin, Fuechsel was 7 when she moved with her family, including sister Martha Fuechsel, M.Ed. ’17, to Warrenton, Virginia. After high school, she indulged her hunger for learning and “did a lot of things to try to spread my wings,” she said. She toured Germany, volunteered in fire and rescue, and worked for a hospital, the National Park Service and the school system.
“Sometimes it’s just as much about finding out what you don’t want to do as it is about learning what you do want to do,” Fuechsel said. “It’s OK to fail; that’s how you learn.”
At Mary Washington, she kept up the pace, working in Residence Life, interning at the Mosby Heritage Area, volunteering at the Montpelier Foundation and loading up on experiential learning opportunities.
“Historic preservation is a hands-on field,” said Fuechsel, who – in addition to her capstone project on segregation – helped conserve historic objects at the Masonic Lodge, designed coloring book pages for Archaeology in the Community and studied bottle glass shards from a Civil War encampment.
“She threw herself into the project 110 percent,” said Adjunct Professor of Historic Preservation Lauren McMillan, who advised Fuechsel on the study she presented at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference in March. “Melanie’s ability to combine her passion for history and material culture with her skills in GIS and other digital technologies makes her a unique graduate of the program and … a highly sought-after historic preservation practitioner.”
Fuechsel joined UMW’s Mortar Board honor society and Historic Preservation Club, presented her work at the Student Research and Creativity Symposium and holed up at the Center for Career and Professional Development. She showed her share of school spirit, as well, attending events from the serious Honor Convocation and Eagle Gathering to the super silly lip sync contest and ice cream social.
“Mary Washington has so many cool things,” she said. “You’re surrounded by people who really have your best interests at heart.”