Alumni Profile: Ashley McGehee
Senior Master Planner
Walt Disney Imagineering
Why study art history?
I decided to study art history in high school. I’m a very visual person and love to create, decorate, and design anything, but I had never taken any art classes. I chose AP Art History as an elective my junior year at Tupelo High School just thinking it would be interesting. The class blew me away—it was challenging and engaging and I found myself getting lost in the stories behind the artists, the boldness and risks of their artwork, and the history and drama they illuminated.
Looking back, art history was the perfect field for my academic strengths and personal interests to grow. It combined my writing skills, love of history and nostalgia, strong sense of empathy, and desire to be surrounded by beautiful things. While I didn’t know what career path art history would take me on, it provided a great foundation.
Discuss a few highlights of your undergraduate experience at UM.
I enjoyed living in Oxford during my time at Ole Miss. Oxford is such a welcoming and artistic town. Through my internship with the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and job at the UM Museum I met many fantastic people and experienced the power of the arts to build a sense of community. Working at the UM Museum was my first taste of a career in art history and a highlight of my undergraduate experience.
Outline your educational/career path.
During college, I was an intern at the University of Mississippi Museum and then was hired as the program coordinator until graduation. After graduating UM in 2011, I started graduate school at the University of Florida College of Design, Construction, and Planning studying historic preservation. I spent the summer of 2011 in Nantucket at a preservation field school conducting research on historic homes and learning traditional building methods. This once-in-a-lifetime experience made me realize my interests in preserving the built environment were much broader than Historic Preservation alone—I wanted to understand what makes cities thrive and be a part of the solutions to our cities problems.
As soon as I moved to Gainesville, I transitioned to studying Urban and Regional Planning with a focus on historic preservation. I choose internships and research projects that allowed me to explore all facets of city planning—historic preservation planning with the City of Fernandina Beach, design as an Anthony K. Baker Intern at the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, and community resilience planning as a graduate assistant working to create a plan for civic engagement in rural coastal regions regarding the impacts of sea level rise. The internship that impacted me the most was with Walt Disney Imagineering working on a new community they were developing—Golden Oak—on land development, real estate, entitlements, and architecture design review. I’m now a senior master planner with Walt Disney Imagineering focusing on pre-development and real estate efforts for the Walt Disney World Resort.
Words of advice about the value of studying art history?
My educational foundation in art history and liberal arts is invaluable. My advice for anyone considering studying art history is to think about the broader reach—in my opinion the core of art history is communicating ideas, history, theories, and vision of a culture. An understanding of these skills is applicable in all professions and daily life.