When Shannon Sturm suggested that the ASU West Texas Collection present an exhibit on the Vietnam War, she had no idea what she was starting—or that it would culminate in her receiving one of the university’s most prestigious staff awards.
As assistant head of special collections in the WTC, Sturm has been involved with compiling and presenting collections on a wide variety of historical subjects for over a decade. But the “Vietnam: Through the Lens” exhibit turned into a true labor of love as she both organized and helped student workers and other volunteers to collect and display the hundreds of photos, letters, other documents and artifacts contributed by local and area Vietnam veterans.
When the exhibit was ready, she organized a panel presentation of veterans for the opening ceremony, conducted tours of the exhibit and later collaborated on closing ceremony activities at multiple ASU and Goodfellow Air Force Base locations.
“It was my idea, but that being said, I had an awful lot of help,” Sturm said. “It was important to me because my step-dad is a Vietnam veteran. We’ve done displays on World War I, World War II, the Civil War and the Korean War, but we had never done anything on Vietnam and we had almost nothing in our archives. I thought that was really sad, and it was an area we needed to fix and have information about our veterans and their experiences in Vietnam.”
“We found out that ASU has quite a connection to Vietnam veterans,” she added. “It came out in the interviews. We would be talking about their Vietnam experiences, and over and over we were told about how they had been at ASU right before they went, or that they came back and went to ASU. We also have several faculty members who are Vietnam veterans. Everybody had such a unique story, and that made it very interesting.”
The exhibit opened in November 2014 and ran for nearly a year until closing in August 2015. Along the way, it became one of the most successful and well-attended displays in the history of the West Texas Collection. For her key role in that success, Sturm was honored by the ASU Staff Senate with the 2014–15 Chancellor’s Colonel Rowan Award for Excellence in Execution.
“Any time your supervisors and colleagues give you an award, it’s an exciting thing,” Sturm said. “But I’d really like to thank all the veterans because they are the ones who made the display possible. I’m honored to have received an award for it, but the veterans are the ones who made the effort to come forward and trust in us to tell their stories.”
“The best part about it was getting to meet all the veterans,” she added. “Many of them are people I would never have met otherwise, so it has really been an amazing experience.”
It was also just the latest wonderful ASU experience for Sturm, who began working in the West Texas Collection as a student in 2003 and has never left. She earned her ASU bachelor’s degree in 2005 and joined the WTC full time in 2006. In addition to her role as assistant head of special collections, she is also the university archivist.
“We have materials in the West Texas Collection that go back to the founding of the school in 1928 down on Oakes Street and all the way to the present,” Sturm said. “As an institution, it’s important to know where you come from, and it’s my job to keep the materials that are important in knowing who we are and maintaining our rich history.”
“ASU is one of those things that just gets in your blood, and you love it and don’t want to go anywhere else.”
“We also collect and preserve the history of this region,” she added, “and we do displays and public programs. We also do instruction for ASU students. They are mostly history students, but we’ve had some graphic art students and other classes, as well. We mainly instruct them on how to do archival research.”
When she is not working in the West Texas Collection, Sturm is active at Holy Angels Catholic Church and enjoys fishing, camping and traveling with her husband, Clinton, and their two rescue dogs, Roxy and Shadow. She also earned her master’s degree from ASU in 2010 and still loves going to Rams football games.
“ASU is one of those things that just gets in your blood, and you love it and don’t want to go anywhere else,” Sturm said. “I loved it as a student and I love it as an employee.”