Loni Rocchio brings us a review of Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England today, where she graduated in 2006 with an MA degree in Museum Studies. Since then she’s worked in Events at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis and then, later, managed the Annual Fund at the Autry National Center here in Los Angeles. She’s held internships and/or practicums at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in Bloomington, Indiana, and Bede’s World, a Candidate World Heritage Site in Northern England. In a move that I’m sure more than a few EMPs are familiar with, she recently left her position at the Autry National Center to work in university development, where as she says, she’ll benefit from the rigorous and disciplined approach to fundraising and stewardship that universities, in particular, provide in spades. She hopes to someday return to museums professionally but, until then, will continue to serve the museum world in other capacities – as a volunteer, advocate and, yes, donor!
Name of School: Newcastle University, International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS)
Degree: Master of Museum Studies
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Program Emphasis: Through its International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS), Newcastle University offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of museums, galleries, and heritage organizations. Emphasis is placed upon research and innovation within all three sectors, with students being encouraged to view museum work through a global lens. Degrees offered include Art Museum and Gallery Education, Art Museum and Gallery Studies, Heritage Education and Interpretation, Heritage Management, and Museum Studies.
When I first contemplated pursuing a graduate degree in Museum Studies, I essentially shortlisted a few qualities to look for in a potential program: 1) that it would require an internship, as I knew how important hands-on experience was to future employers, 2) that it would be affordable and 3) that it would, ideally, include an opportunity to study abroad, preferably in a cosmopolitan city with access to numerous museums and heritage sites. At the end of the day, I wanted to think outside the box and expose myself to new ideas.
Programs in the UK appealed to me because they are highly respected and, more often than not, widely established. I also loved the idea of earning a Masters degree in just one intensive year of study, thereby saving me money and time. Newcastle University, specifically, offered the perfect combination of qualities I valued – an international approach to teaching and learning, credibility within the wider museum community, emphasis on research and critical thinking, practical and theoretical coursework and, of course, a required 8-week work placement, which they’d facilitate on my behalf. Happily, the program also arranged field trips and excursions to museums in places like Edinburgh, Scotland, the North Pennines of England, and Paris, France.
There are typically 60-80 students enrolled at ICCHS, and those students come from across the UK, the EU, parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Most were studying full-time, but some were taking courses part-time or for professional development. Classes occur on a sort of “one week on/one week off” system. Faculty members and lecturers reflect the diversity of the student body, provide expertise in areas like archaeology, technology, preservation, and policy, and have worked for museums and organizations like Robben Island in South Africa and UNESCO.
The group as a whole takes three mandatory classes together, and then students are given freedom to choose among specialized courses in topics like Gallery Education, Art Curatorship, Heritage Management, and Collections Management. Personal stand-outs include Communication and Interpretation, Issues and Ideas, and Interpretation and Exhibitions, where students are asked to work in groups to create a traveling exhibition and an accompanying website in partnership with a local museum. My team partnered with the Great North Museum to conceptualize an exhibition on Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, a historic site and village community in the North of England. We collaborated to curate artifacts, design and launch a website, plan our budget and expenses, partner with the local community for in-kind donations, set it all up, create a press release, and then hold the actual exhibit opening. Courses taken during this module provided instruction on best practices in education, use of technology, and evaluation. In 2006 this was quite cutting edge. As I look back on my professional development, this is perhaps the project I’m most proud of.
Students are required, as previously stated, to complete a full-time, 8-week work placement at a museum, gallery, or heritage site as part of their studies. ICCHS has a faculty member dedicated to helping students find the perfect fit for this internship, mentoring them through a series of check-ins and reports. I interned in the marketing and education departments at Bede’s World, a Candidate World Heritage Site made up of a living museum and two Anglo-Saxon monasteries. My work was meaningful. Not only did I help research the museum’s bid to become a World Heritage Site, which would necessarily provide significant increases in both funding and prestige, but I also assisted in the planning and implementation of the annual Medieval Fair. Finally, upon completion of the work placement, students must write a dissertation of around 100 pages on a research topic of his or her choice.
My experience as an international student is one I’ll always appreciate, but it wasn’t always easy to be so far away from family and friends, and there were times when I was befuddled by English life in general (and especially the infamous Geordie accent!). The University arranged housing for me, which was wonderful, and I was lucky enough to secure a scholarship, which offset about a third of the costs of my studies. Newcastle upon Tyne, itself, is a vibrant city of working class people, stunning architecture, and lots of history. There’s also something to be said for having access to affordable travel to the Continent, and I took advantage with trips to France, Scotland, Ireland, Monaco, and Italy during my year at Newcastle.
My only complaint is that, by the time you truly “settle” as an international student in a one-year program, it’s basically time to pack up and leave. I also worried throughout my studies that my English degree wouldn’t “translate” here in the States but, luckily, I haven’t found that to be true. If anything, my employers have been excited by the ideas I bring to the table as a result of my time abroad. Plus, when I meet a colleague who studied outside the States, we automatically relate and bond. There are more of us than you’d think!
I think the best thing about studying at Newcastle is having a built-in network of museum professionals across the globe to bounce ideas off of, and I truly value the life experience I gained by virtue of working alongside people with so many perspectives. Classmates hold positions around the world as archivists, archaeologists, curators, and conservators.
At the end of the day you get what you put in. A student who takes ownership over his or her studies, works hard, goes with the flow, seeks out friendships, and speaks up to ask questions will do well at Newcastle.