From Arch- to BARK-eology: The ‘tail’ of one St Cross alumna

heather willey

Ruff day at the office? 

Alumna Heather Willey (MSt Archaeology, 2016) has a paw-sitively great job. Heather is a Social Media Content Coordinator for BARK Inc., a company that designs and distributes themed dog toy and treat subscription boxes across the US and Canada.  

She has two dogs, a Pug named Samwise Gamgee, a Lab named Louie – and as of 2022, a new husband! 

Samwise is a grumpy old pug; he's five-years old going on 80. He spends most of his day sleeping in front of the heat vent, eating snacks, and tricking Louie into doing his bidding. Louie the lab is a year and a half old and “absolutely beautiful”.  

“He is incredibly sweet, but he basically has a cheeseball for a brain,” says Heather. “Louie adores Samwise and constantly wants to cuddle with him and play with him.” Samwise meanwhile tolerates Louie's attention. 

BARK Inc.’s office is designed with dogs in mind. It has indoor and outdoor dog parks, plenty of toys, and even comfy dog beds to use while their humans work. Heather brought Samwise to work a couple of times. “Sammy is a little overly affectionate at the office,” she says. He would chase after people for treats and belly rubs -  sometimes while still attached to her wheeled office chair. 

Louie has yet to experience the office. Heather only got him in December 2021 and due to the pandemic, has been working from home since March 2020. “[Louie] is enough to manage at home,” she says, “he'd be a handful at the office with all his puppy energy!” 

Heather has worked at BARK Inc. for a little over three years. As the Social Media Content Coordinator, she analyses and monitors social media queues and live operations to ensure BARK Inc. customers get the great customer service they’re known for, and in a timely manner.  

There are about 15 Social Media Content Experts whom Heather supports directly. She works with them to craft customer service education, witty responses, and yes, sometimes dog-centric puns which they then post publicly on their social media platforms. 

heather willey  st cross ball common room

Having a ball at St Cross 

Being at St Cross was Heather’s first experience living in the UK. There wasn’t much culture shock she says, though she holds firm that American peanut butter is superior to British peanut butter – so much so that she even brought some back to the UK after the Christmas holiday. 

The main challenge she found at Oxford was the course design; it was very different from her undergraduate experience at The Ohio State University. It took some getting used to, she says, but being able to really focus on her passion was worth it. 

“I loved that there wasn't a head table at St Cross,” says Heather. “When I ate lunch it felt as though the staff really wanted to get to know the students and hear about what they were pursuing. I don't think being at a college with a head table would have given me the same amount of access.” 

Heather lived at the Bradmore Road accommodation. “It was lovely living with other international graduate students.” St Cross's main site was between her accommodation and the archaeology department where she was a student, so she spent quite a bit of time there between courses; using the libraries, having lunch, and for meetings. 

She and several flatmates were on the College croquet team, so they were asked to attend the Sports Dinner. “The food was absolutely amazing and we got a kick out of being invited despite our obvious lack of athletic prowess.” 

Another flatmate was a rower and Heather fondly recalls sitting on the riverbank, cheering on the rowing team during the Regatta that spring.  

Soon after, her boyfriend from the States visited St Cross and attended the Ball with her.  

Always and fur-ever

Heather and her partner started dating two months before she left for Oxford back in 2016. And more recently, in 2022, they were married!

They weren’t keen on travelling internationally for their honeymoon because of Covid. Instead, they journeyed along the US east coast. 

“It was beautiful!” she says. Heather and her partner both love autumn so in September they took in ocean views and seafood along the Massachusetts coast then headed inland to the White Mountains where they enjoyed New England’s famous fall colours at a cozy bed and breakfast.  

“It suited us better than any all-inclusive tropical beach resort trip would have.” 

heather willey  with partner

A career in BARK-eology  

Heather grew up in in Northwestern Ohio and moved to the state’s capital, Columbus, for her undergrad degree. She returned to Columbus after leaving Oxford, and there she worked as an event planner for the Distance Education and eLearning department at her other alma mater, The Ohio State University (OSU). 

She helped to plan and execute the Ohio Science Olympiad competition, a huge STEM event for K-12 (kindergarten to high school level) students that ends with a team or two qualifying for a national tournament and helped the university to implement its Digital Flagship program; a partnership between OSU and Apple that provides all incoming freshmen students with a free iPad - a way of decreasing the resource gap between students. 

It was while working at OSU that Heather adopted Samwise Gamgee.  

“It’s a funny story really,” she says. “For Sammy's first Christmas, I ordered him a BarkBox. He opened it at my parent's house Christmas morning and my childhood dog, Autumn (a golden retriever), promptly destroyed one of Sammy's new toys. He was super upset and so I reached out to their customer service to see about ordering him a new one (he's incredibly spoiled).” 

The BARK Inc. ambassador Heather spoke with not only sent a brand-new toy for free, but also a larger version for Autumn too. “It was the best customer service I had ever experienced; I was floored!” 

While looking for a career change a couple years later, Heather realized BARK Inc. was based in Columbus, and knew she had to apply. “The rest is history!” she says.  

A bark-out for Mid-West alumni 

While Heather is an avid reader of the College alumni newsletter and other updates, unfortunately neither the College nor University have held in-person events in her part of the US in recent years. Despite this, Heather keeps in touch with old St Cross friends. 

Make the absolute most of your time [at St Cross] and explore with an open mind

“It's odd because I didn't really spend much time with anyone from the US while I was at St Cross,” she says. “Facebook has been the primary connection between me and the friends I made from around the world.” 

Among the things Heather misses about being at St Cross: the friends she made, being constantly surrounded by historic architecture, and Jaffa Cakes! 

“Soak it all in,” is her message for current St Cross students. “Being at St Cross and Oxford, in general, is such a privilege. To be surrounded by so many amazing people doing amazing work is truly unique and it doesn't happen to everyone. Make the absolute most of your time there and explore with an open mind.” 

Learn more about the College's alumni network at our dedicated webpage, or contact Annabelle at We are always happy to hear from you! Please send personal updates or reach out with any questions you may have.

heather willey  dogs