This is our first jointly-written post about Graduate Schools, highlighting the Johns Hopkins University program in Museum Studies. Jillian Becquet and Brian Rayca both graduated in May 2012, so they’re very familiar with the current practices in the program. Jillian is the Exhibit Project Manager at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History in Corpus Christi, TX. She has a passion for material culture and object-based learning, and her goal is to teach someone something every day. Brian is a Museum Technician at the West Point Museum in West Point, NY. He started his museum career by volunteering at the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, NJ, which sparked a passion for museum practices. I also wanted to point out that Brian is the first man to contribute a post to our blog, and I’d like to congratulate and thank him for being a bit of a trailblazer amongst EMPs!
School: Johns Hopkins University
Location: Online classes and one one-site seminar (2 weeks, in US or abroad)
Program Emphasis: Museums in the digital age; self-directed focus based on course choices
It’s no secret that there’s a variety of opinions about online degrees. The Johns Hopkins University Museum Studies program benefits from the many advantages of the online format without the large classes and impersonal experience many assume are a hallmark of online education. The program’s unique structure and dedication to small classes, personal relationships, and an engaging educational experience make the JHU program not only effective but especially advantageous for the working museum professional.
The student body is made up of people from all levels of the museum field, including some wishing to gain their first museum job. It takes a unique student to prosper in this 90% online program. Group projects are common in many of the courses so flexibility when working with students all over the country (and sometimes the world) is key. One gets a unique appreciation of time zones. It’s important to be self-motivated enough to check into class every day (or at least every other day) because discussion board postings are an important (and graded) part of the teaching process. A typical class has several weekly discussion boards, a handful of papers, and a large final project or paper. Many classes conclude with live presentations to your classmates and professor online. There is no thesis; instead, each class has a large, usually very hands-on and practical, final project or paper. These certainly hone your research skills like a thesis would, and create a great portfolio to take with you to interviews. Internships are available can can count as a class.
The strength of JHU is the community, both of students and professors. It’s easy for on-site programs to say they have community and a network because students are forced to encounter situations to build these things. At JHU it happens organically. Our tight-knit community is built around the technology that brings classmates and professors together from homes and workplaces around the world. The classroom site (Blackboard), Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Docs and other tools all are ingrained in our daily studies. We build this community both inside and outside the classroom, and many of us count each other as friends even though we may live in different countries and have never met in person. The JHU program is represented in dozens of regional and topical museum associations in the country, and students often get together with others from their area to visit museums and socialize. The professors are all current museum professionals who work in museums around the nation. They’re “in the trenches” just like the students, and serve as great resources for both class work and professional ventures. Here’s a map showing where students, faculty and alumni are from.
The highlight of the program for most students is the two week seminar. This is the only course that takes place in-person and is offered in the winter intersession and each summer in a variety of locations domestically and abroad, including London (where we attended together in 2011), Barcelona, San Diego, Chicago, New York City, Washington DC to name a few. The London seminar is made possible through the cooperation and partnership of the University of Westminster. During the seminar we visited dozens of London museums and worked with the Museum of London on our final projects. These were easily the two most intense weeks of our academic careers, as we spent every waking minute in class, working on homework, or visiting sites around the city. It was tons of work…but we all loved it and I think any of us would do it again!
It’s common knowledge in the field that experience is king, but also that graduate degrees are increasingly in demand. The ability to pursue a degree without the limits imposed by full-time classes makes Johns Hopkins’ program stand out. Coursework can be completed from anywhere one has internet access. Blackboard even has an iPad App. The unique flexibility of the online program allows students to take professional opportunities as they arise even if they are in a different city. Students’ travel, either professional or personal, is not dictated by the demands of the classroom, because the classroom travels with them. I know we both appreciated that freedom during our two years and know of other students who took full advantage of this ability. The active alumni group enjoys speakers and opportunities for engagement far past graduation. There is even a “Alumni Ambassadors” program that pairs alumni with newly admitted students to help them get started and comfortable in the program! The program provides several scholarships, and the alumni just founded one to cover the cost of the seminar for one student. Although these opportunities are not as plentiful as funding at some schools, most students find that their ability to work up to full time during the program can help them get through financially while they gain valuable on-the-job experience.
Some critics of online education make it seem as if those promoting it believe that online education is the “way of the future” for all students. If there is one thing museum educators know, it is that people learn in various ways. Not every student can be successful in an online program. Johns Hopkins is right for the self-motivated museum professional who can balance school, life and work/volunteering. Working while taking two classes (there is the option to take more or less than that) is challenging, but it’s rewarding to be able to immediately practice what you learn in class.
In the final analysis one has to determine what is the best way for them personally. There are a lot of practical advantages to attending the Online Museum Studies Program at Johns Hopkins, for us it was ideal that a fine University with a sterling reputation offered us a chance to come to school without having to uproot from job and family, and in the process joined a larger community of new friends and fellow museum professionals.
In addition to their website, you can also find out more about the program on:
iTunes (for an example of a seminar project–these won the Honeysett and Din Student Award from AAM! Both namesakes of the award are JHU professors.)
On a more serious note, Jillian and Brian requested that I include this, and I have no problem doing so. Our thoughts go out to the Wiechmanns and we hope for a full recovery.