Today we look at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, a post brought to us by Liz Menz. Liz graduated in 2007 from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a Master of Arts in History with a Concentration in Museum Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies. She is now the Manager of Adult Programming at the Dallas Museum of Art where she oversees lectures, gallery talks, film programming, and is part of the Late Night team.
Name of School: University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL)
Location: St. Louis, Missouri. If you haven’t been to the great STL, I would recommend a visit. Art and history-filled to the brim, Schlafly beer, and Cardinals baseball – what’s not to love?!
Degree: Master of Arts in History, Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies
Program Emphasis: Interdisciplinary, combining museum theory and museum experience.
The UMSL Master’s program for History and Museum Studies is a program centered on preparing students for museum work in the real world. The majority of students go into the program not expecting to pursue a PhD in the field, but are more interested in a specific field of museums and gaining experience that will land them that elusive first job. Most do not write thesis, but do a larger exit project with a committee consisting of faculty and museum professionals. I will admit, this was one of the big draws to the program for me – no thesis? Sign me up!
The UMSL program offers so much to students looking to work in museums, regardless of what field you want to work in – we consisted of educators, curators, researchers, registrars, exhibition designers, community outreach-ers, and writers. And that was just my graduating cohort of eight people!
The Curriculum: The curriculum is a 39-hour graduate program that can be finished in two years as a full-time student.
The coursework is a combination of intensive museum courses, ranging from theory to practical application, and history electives. The courses are broken down into seven museology courses and a master’s project:
- Foundations of Museology I
- Effective Action in Museums
- Foundations of Museology II
- History Curatorship
- Practicum in Exhibition & Program Development
- Museum Education & Visitor Research
- Social & Intellectual History of American Museums
- Museum Studies Master’s Project
Course descriptions can be found here.
The rest of the hours consist of four history electives at the graduate level that you choose on your own – you can tailor these to your liking. I took things like Material Culture and Educational History in America, sticking with my art history and education background.
Each student tailors the Master’s Project to their own specialties in museums. As an adult educator, I worked with my boss at the Saint Louis Art Museum, where I was serving as a graduate intern (more on that below), to craft a project that would be solely mine and could be evaluated by my committee. I chose to serve as the lead programmer for a large special exhibition, putting together a full offering of lectures, films, musical performances, gallery talks, and classes for the public. I took over the planning, the financials, the technical and presentation aspects, and even the internal setup! After things were set, I submitted a large report to my committee, complete with publications for the programs and was (thankfully!) passed and graduated!
Projects varied from planning exhibitions, writing publications, and building online resources for collections. This project is what really prepared all of us for our careers - we were given the opportunity to craft our own ideas into something that would be applicable to our real world jobs after we left the safety of our nice, warm graduate classes and were forced into adulthood.
The Graduate Research Assistantship: The Graduate Research Assistantship (or basically, your graduate internship) is, in my opinion, the best thing about this program.
Upon acceptance to the program, we all met with the director and discussed our GRA - almost every single student in the program is granted a GRA which will provide quite possibly the best real world experience you could ever get while still in school and also provide you with a great and wonderful thing: financial aid!
Each student is placed in an institution and department specific to their interests. As someone with an art history degree and experience in education, I was placed in Public Programs at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Students are placed at the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL, Laumeier Sculpture Park, and more.
For roughly twenty hours a week during the two years of school, the GRAs work for their institution. Staying with the same place for the duration provides you not only a job to report to, but allows you to grow in your experience and fully flush out your interests in museums. I began as an intern and six months in had my own programming responsibilities. AND upon graduation was extended a job offer to become an Associate Educator, where I stayed for three more years!
The Faculty: The entire faculty associated with the Museum Studies program is, by far, the best resource the program offers. There are three main faculty members, the Director, Dr. Jay Rounds (who is, unfortunately, retiring, but his wonderful program will live on), the education and visitor research guru, Dr. Louis Lankford, and the curatorship expert, Dr. John Hoover. While these three teach many of the classes, other experts serve as adjunct faculty. We learned from project managers, exhibition designers, interpretation experts, and more.
Each person who teaches in the program is an asset to the student. I graduated five years ago and am still in regular contact with the majority of the faculty. Even just last week, I looked up someone who had presented on project management to my class sometime in 2006 – not only did she answer my question and provide me the resources I was looking for, she even remembered me!
Why I Chose UMSL: There are numerous reasons why I chose UMSL, but I’m limiting myself to these four:
- Practical Experience – I’d worked in museums before, but I wanted more and I needed it to be more specific. I knew curatorial wasn’t for me, so I didn’t want to pursue Art History. I wanted to be with the visitors in a programming environment. UMSL provided me with the coursework and the internship that I needed.
- Location, Location, Location! – The best advice I ever got about graduate school for Museum Studies was this: Choose a program in a place with multiple museums. Being in a larger city with several institutions to pick from creates more opportunity for internships and networking.
- The Faculty – The director of the program took my phone call a full year before I’d even applied, met with me multiple times, and put up with my constant questions. The faculty is deeply committed to their future, current, and past students.
- A Small Cohort – Classes for the program are no more than twelve students – you know everything about everyone. We are still close and I consider my fellow students, now colleagues, one of the best resources I could ask for in my career.
Have a question about UMSL’s Museum Studies program? Leave a comment or contact me directly: LMenz@DallasMuseumofArt.org. I’d love to hear from you!