We have a few graduate school posts in a row this week, as we had so many people volunteer to write posts that we needed to open up some Tuesday slots as well! Today is a post about my own alma mater, thankfully written by a former classmate of mine Maggie Stockel. Maggie completed her Master of Arts in Museum Studies with a concentration in Museum Curation in May 2012. She’s currently serving as the Interim Director of Institutional Funding & Evaluation at the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park in Oakland, California. Her two main responsibilities are grants management and coordinating the museum’s membership program. But since the museum has a relatively small staff, she’s also involved in day-to-day operations, exhibit curation and maintenance of the 1870 historic house and the surrounding grounds.
Name of School: San Francisco State University
Location: San Francisco, California
Program Emphasis: The Master of Arts in Museum Studies is an interdisciplinary program that explores the connections between museum theory and practice.
Students tailor their course of study by selecting one of the following area emphases:
- Exhibition Design
- Museum Education
- Museum Fundraising
- Museum Management
- Registration/Collections Management
I was attracted to the Museum Studies Program at SFSU for several reasons. First, regardless of ultimate career goals, all students are required to master the fundamentals of museum management, fundraising and collections care. When I first entered the program, I knew I wanted to work in a museum, but I was unsure what my “dream job” would be. I knew the Museum Studies Program at SFSU would provide me with a strong theoretical foundation in every aspect of museum work while allowing me to explore various specialties through electives offered by both the Museum Studies department and other graduate departments at SFSU. Second, students have the opportunity to work with the extensive antiquities collection housed in the University Museum which is run by the Museum Studies department. As a life-long lover of ancient civilizations, I could not pass up the opportunity the work with the collection, curate exhibits and lead educational tours! And finally, I knew the small class sizes would allow me to work closely with faculty.
The Masters of Arts degree in Museum Studies is a 33 unit curriculum that can be completed in 2 years, if attending full-time. Core Requirements include History and Organization of Museums, Museum Fundraising, and the Museum Internship course. Area requirements then come from collections care and conservation, museum management and governance, and exhibition design and curation. Additionally, several courses in a specific Area Emphasis and the Culminating Experience complete the degree requirements.
In terms of funding, SFSU offers various scholarships, work-study awards and loan opportunities. Being a public school, tuition for in-state residents is fairly cheap, and it only takes a year to establish residency in most cases. In addition, the Museum Studies Program was recently recognized as a Distinctive, High-Quality Program by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). As such, residents of the 15 participating WICHE states can enroll in the Museum Studies Program and pay resident tuition.
The Program is small with approximately 60 students total enrollment, and around 20 more accepted each year. Class sizes usually range from 15 to 25 students, providing an environment of individual attention and easy communication between students and faculty. The Museum Studies student body ranges from recent B.A. graduates to mid-career professionals with a variety of future career goals. Initially, I was surprised by the range of undergraduate degrees represented in the student body – there were classicists, art historians, anthropologists, biologists, and historians. There were students with communications majors, English majors and teaching credentials. I was originally concerned that such diverse interests would result in fractured classes. Instead, the diversity led to eye-opening class discussions and interesting comparisons between disciplines.
The faculty are accomplished scholars and experienced museum professionals. Each semester, lecturers currently working at a variety of local cultural institutions are invited to teach elective courses. Their courses tend to focus on current issues and usually incorporate real-world assignments.
Each course explores museum theory and practice through readings (best enjoyed with a latte), discussions and hands-on projects. Students are welcome to tailor their projects to complement their undergraduate degrees and/or to complement their specific area of interest within Museum Studies.
The hands-on projects are often, but not always, theoretical. In MS 715: Interpretation in Museums and Heritage Organizations we were charged with developing interpretation for Thimlich Ohinga, an archaeological site in Kenya. Before we developed signs, panels and brochures, we studied the latest developments in the field of interpretation. Our class projects were considered by the National Museums of Kenya as prototypes for the final interpretive material, which is currently under production. You can browse selected student projects on the AIA website.
Each semester, Museum Studies students have the opportunity to produce exhibitions and develop related educational programming through courses based on the University Museum’s extensive antiquities collection. MS 720: Museum Curatorship and Collecting is responsible for developing the exhibition while MS 710: Museum Education and Schools Outreach develops a tour program for school groups. Each semester over 500 individuals visit the University Museum. Students are encouraged to enroll in relevant courses offered by other departments including Parks and Recreation, Public Administration, Business and many others. One of the most useful (and one of my favorite) courses was Desktop Publishing for Technical and Professional Writers. Through Adobe Creative Suite, I learned elements of graphic and document design that have proved to be invaluable in my current position in a small museum without a dedicated design department. I also had the opportunity to curate and design two exhibitions in the Fine Arts Gallery on campus through the Art Departments’ Exhibition Design course.
Two of the most valuable requirements, in my opinion, are the internship and the culminating experience. Both helped me build my resume and increase my network of professional contacts. The required internship is composed of 144 hours of pre-professional, unsalaried training and can be completed during the school year or over the summer. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a variety of excellent museums and non-profit organizations. I completed internships at:
- The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco where I rehoused a surprisingly interesting archival collection,
- The Walt Disney Family Museum where I digitized a collection of oral history interviews with the Imagineers who designed rides for Disneyland, and,
- Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park where I created an index for a newsletter written by employees of the Kaiser Shipyards.
You can view a listing of other internships locations on the program website.
The culminating experience can be a traditional Master’s thesis or a creative work project, which involves the curation of an exhibition in an off-campus museum. Extensive faculty support ensures that students produce research and practice-based studies that are useful, reflective and of the highest quality. Browse a complete list of theses and creative work projects on the program website.
For my culminating experience I curated an exhibition at the Dublin Heritage Park & Museums. I was responsible for every aspect of the project from securing funding to building object mounts and installing the exhibition. I wrote an interpretive plan, edited wall text and object labels and hosted an opening reception. It was an incredible (as well as exhausting) experience that gave me the real-world skills necessary to land my current position.
Current students and alumnae have access to two great professional development organizations: the Museum Studies Student Association (MSSA) and the Bay Area Emerging Professionals (BAEMP). MSSA hosts everything from casual meet-and-greet events to career building workshops such as resume critiques and alumni panels. BAEMP hosts events and behind-the-scenes tours at local cultural institutions.
Ultimately, this program is best suited for individuals seeking a broad, theoretical foundation in museum work. Upon graduation, students have a firm understanding of the museum profession, its framework, and its tool kits. The Program produces highly analytic and creative problem solvers who are able to address current and emerging issues in the museum field. As a recent graduate, I feel prepared for the challenging and diverse issues inherent in small institutions.