2023 Rising Stars: Sarah Woods

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Sarah Woods (Photo by Bryan Oller)

Sarah Woods has always been passionate about history and writing — fictional or not — so it’s easy to trace the trajectory that landed her the role of Curator of Historical Properties and Archives for the El Pomar Foundation.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing research and sharing the things that I’ve learned with others,” she says.

Woods’ role at El Pomar is vast. Through her work, she maintains and displays the fine art collection of early Colorado Springs benefactors Spencer and Julie Penrose — as well as their personal items and ephemera — for the benefit of the community. She also oversees the foundation’s three iconic local properties: the Penrose Heritage Museum, the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun and the Penrose House Conference Center.

She doesn’t have a big staff, but she’s been busy improving and bolstering the foundation’s collections, bringing student groups into their museum and educating them on the Penroses’ philanthropic vision and impact on the city. But her job didn’t start so large — she grew into it thanks to her incredible
passion for history.

An Indiana native, she sought her bachelor’s in creative writing at the College of Santa Fe, a school with an intense graduate-level approach to its undergraduate program. College of Santa Fe faculty had written for television and won Emmy Awards.

Woods took on a research assistant role for a professor’s project on an underground, experimental artist and was told that she had a knack for the work.

"I can identify [several] careers’ worth of work that can be done."

“I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know how I’ll be a researcher because I’m not a subject matter expert in anything,’” she says. “I started looking into it and realized that if I became an archivist, I could support other scholars that were subject matter experts by making records available to them and helping them through their research process.”

Failing to find work out west, she moved back to Indiana to pursue her master’s in archives and records management from Indiana University. She took on several notable internships, including NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

“They had disbanded their history program in the ‘80s and I think they were the only [center] that didn’t have one,” Woods says. This shocked her because Langley was the epicenter of the United States’ efforts to put people on the moon in the ‘60s. “I was brought in to basically evaluate the status of their history program,” she says. “I got to spend my summer [there] unsupervised because I was a graduate student.”

Her final internship brought her to Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee in 2018 at the peak of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal. Her boyfriend joined her and they didn’t expect to stay long. But after a month, she interviewed for and got a job offer for the curator role at the El Pomar Foundation, based on her extensive experience.

At first, the foundation was flexible on letting her finish the internship, but they quickly changed their minds and needed her to start right away. Her internship sponsor and advising professor quickly signed off and the couple briefly hopped back to Indiana so she could graduate. Her boyfriend proposed and they packed their life up for something new here on the Front Range.

Through her role, Woods has embedded deeply into the community, making countless connections and partnerships. “When I look at the museum and the foundation and my role is in it, I can identify [several] careers’ worth of work that can be done, which is really exciting,” she says, looking forward to the next five years of her career. “The hard part for me is that I have a tendency to want to do all of it at once and you can’t do that. You’ve got to put one foot in front of the other.”

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