Graduate Schools: Boston University Certificate Program

11 Dec

Today we have a lovely post from Carolyn Corrigan, looking at the Certificate in Museum Studies program from Boston University. For the most part we’ve only had posts about full MA programs, so I’m pleased to have a review of a certificate program to provide more diversity. Carolyn is currently in the process of setting up her final internship for the spring semester. This past summer she interned at two museums in Cleveland, OH: in the collections management department of the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, and the education and public programs department of the Western Reserve Historical Society. While her program has great reach in museums across the country, Carolyn was pleased to attain her internships without such networking. I can also say from the summer I lived in Boston that she’s not wrong about the Peabody Essex Museum being worth the trip to Salem! 

School: Boston University

Degree: Certificate in Museum Studies

Location: Boston, MA

Program Emphasis: Museum History and Theory, Curation, Arts Administration, Practicum

While the museum certificate at Boston University is open to non-degree students, the majority of people in the program pursue the certificate in combination with other course work. In my case, a master’s degree in the History of Art and Architecture. The certificate program is also open to undergraduate students. Because of this, this program brings together a varied group of students from archaeology, fine arts, art history, and arts administration.

The certificate is awarded after the completion of four courses: The Museum and Historical Agency, a curatorship seminar, an internship and an elective which is often filled with another internship. If you choose to pursue the certificate in conjunction with a M.A. in art history you will have to complete an internship during the summer in order to graduate in two years. Fortunately, if you do this you get a bit of a price break and it gives you the freedom to look for internships outside of Boston if you wish.

Now on to the practical part: money and jobs. BU doesn’t have a lot of money and what they do have goes towards the PhD students so you probably won’t get funding. However, BU has just been named one of the top 10 schools in the US for job placement and 17th worldwide (see article here). I have also been told by more than one source that BU M.A. students from the History of Art and Architecture program go on to get good jobs and that the certificate makes you more likely to get an interview. As a part of the Museum and Historical Agency class that I was in, we went to the Institute of Contemporary Art and met with an alum of the program who stressed that the certificate was instrumental in gaining her current position.

Probably the best thing about this program is its location, especially if you love American art as I do. The Museum of Fine Arts is colossal and recently completed a renovation which includes brand new galleries for its American and contemporary collection. As a BU student you get in for free! Right next door to the MFA is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum which is a must-see. The Institute of Contemporary Art is also in a brand new and quite impressive building. In addition to these institutions, there are also the museums at Harvard and MIT, the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum and New York City is just bus ride away! I personally recommend taking the train up to Salem to see the Peabody Essex Museum.

The reason this program appealed to me was that I knew I wanted to get my master’s in art history, but also wanted to make myself an attractive candidate for museum positions. This program does just that. If you’re looking for a program that is all museum work all the time, then this isn’t the program for you.

I find that the certificate program at BU gives you a nice balance between pursuing academic interests and research, and developing practical skills.

Graduate Schools: Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

23 Nov

Today’s post comes from Kristina Johnson, who brought us a lovely post on Museum Accessibility in September. Thanks very much for your ongoing contributions, Kristina!

School Name: Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Degrees Offered: Master of Arts in Museum Studies, Graduate and Undergraduate Certificates in Museum Studies

Program Emphasis: Core Disciplines of Exhibits, Education and Administration with emphasis on Civic Engagement and Service Learning


IUPUI’s Museum Studies program is an interdisciplinary program that provides a balanced approach to its curriculum. Students are required to complete core courses in Administration, Education, Exhibit Planning and Collections Care. In addition to an introductory course and a colloquium course, these required classes constitute half of the program credits. Instead of a thesis, six credits of internship experience are required, and a final four elective courses are required to earn the Master’s degree.

As a nationally recognized service learning university, IUPUI has a strong commitment to community partnerships and civic engagement. The Museum Studies program is no exception to this commitment, and many of the courses offered have a service learning project component. These service learning projects are usually group based work, and are excellent opportunities to build skills and also network with local museum professionals. Examples of the types of projects are the following:

  • Working with the director of a local museum to develop a five year strategic plan
  • Designing and implementing evaluation tools for use in assessing visitor interest in gallery and program expansions at a history museum
  • Creating an exhibit design proposal for renovating exhibit space
  • Developing a program plan proposal for family activities

Although some prospective students may be looking for a program that is heavily focused on one specific area of museum work, such as curatorial practice or education, I, as well as many other students in the program, value the variety of course offerings and projects available at IUPUI. There is a lot of flexibility in choosing electives and internship experiences. There are elective courses where students can pursue an in-depth understanding of one of the core areas of the program, but there are also many approved electives outside the department, such as courses in public history, archival practices, anthropology, education and non-profit management.

The program has a very strong relationship with the Indianapolis museum community, and there is no shortage of internship opportunities, although they are typically unpaid. Many students do find opportunities that may offer a stipend or scholarship, and there are a lot of part-time jobs in the area’s museum and cultural arts organizations. Indianapolis has several well-established, reputable museums, such as The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Zoo, and Indiana Historical Society. Indianapolis and surrounding areas also have many smaller specialty museums and historic sites.

Seven full-time faculty members make up the Museum Studies department, and many adjunct faculty from other departments and local museum professionals step in to teach core courses, or special topics courses as opportunities and necessity arise. The full-time faculty come from a variety of backgrounds and have a wealth of collective experience to share with students in areas of anthropology, archaeology, Native American studies, African American and Diaspora studies, material culture, museum education, visual communication, informal and family learning in museums, object-based learning, visitor studies, public art, public history, cultural heritage management, etc.

My experience at IUPUI and in Indianapolis has been exceptionally rewarding. I’ll be honest and say that I did not do much research into other schools because I had some other personal criteria that I sought in relocating from CT, and my area of interest is access and inclusion for people with disabilities. That’s not really a mainstream museum studies track, so I was less concerned with finding a program that was heavily focused on any one core area of museum studies because I knew I wasn’t going to find one with a focus on accessibility. What drew me to IUPUI was, in fact, geography because I wanted to be in the Midwest. Indianapolis is very well-situated within convenient travel distances to other major cities, like Chicago, St Louis and Cincinnati. Not only does Indianapolis have its own great museum community, but it’s also close enough to other cities for the sake of taking day trips to visit other museum communities.

I also liked that the curriculum was not specific to one discipline within the field because I knew I’d need the variety in my training since accessibility is an issue that cuts across all aspects of museums. Once I got here, I’ve never doubted for a second that IUPUI was the best choice for me. Faculty has been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my academic interests, and there is a lot of flexibility built into assignments where I’ve been able to incorporate my accessibility interest into my work here.

Touching back on the relationship between the department and the Indianapolis museum community, I have been consistently impressed by the commitment that area museum professionals make in supporting learning opportunities for students in the program. They are incredibly generous with their time, and field trips or guest speakers to class are frequent events. We get face time with curators, museum educators, collections managers, exhibit developers, and even CEOs/Directors of major museums in town. As an individual student, I have received so much support from museum professionals here. I spend a lot of time sending out emails, asking for meetings to discuss accessibility to supplement my coursework, and pretty much everyone I contact says, “Yes, I’d love to talk with you.” The faculty and students do a lot of work for local museums, and they understand the value of that, and do as much as they can to give back to the program.

Graduate Schools: University of Delaware

20 Nov

First, dear readers, my apologies for our unexpected hiatus! We have a lot of excellent posts coming up, and will be back on our regular Tuesday/Friday schedule. Today we have a post about the University of Delaware from Kate Duffy. Kate completed her masters degree in History with certificate in Museum Studies at the University of Delaware in May 2012. Through a Fulbright grant, she is living in Montreal, Quebec this year, carrying out a public history project on the built environment and collective memory. She blogs at Wunderplatz.

Name of School: University of Delaware
Location: Newark, Delaware
Program Emphasis: Museum Studies certificate as optional component of any masters or PhD program at the university. Hands-on projects at small museums and historic sites.

If you’d like to focus on a specific academic subject while also developing general museum- related skills, the University of Delaware would be an ideal choice!

Not only was I a student at UD, but I worked for the Museum Studies Program as a graduate assistant for two years. It opened a lot of doors for me, and I’m happy to share an inside view of the program.

First, the basic details. Museum Studies at the University of Delaware is a 12-credit certificate program open to any masters or doctoral student at UD.  While the program is administered by the Department of History and attracts many public history types, students in recent years have come from a range of other departments, including Art History, Plant and Soil Sciences, the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, and Historic Preservation.

To complete the certificate, students must take at least three Museum Studies courses.  One is a required intro course on the theory, history, and future of museums (think weird engravings of wunderkammeren and discussions on how museums are evolving in the digital age). Most other Museum Studies courses are practical in nature, focusing on different aspects of museum work: exhibitions, archives, collections management, and so on.  These courses are usually taught by adjunct professors who work in the field, and they often involve a group project undertaken in partnership with an area institution. One class recently catalogued the collection of Old Swedes Church while another created educational programs for kids at Auburn Heights Preserve.


The Laurel Project Team

Students also fulfill a 380-hour internship requirement, either over the summer break or bit by bit over the course of the program. I spent the summer at the Rosenbach, a rare books museum in Philadelphia. (Yes, Philly is within commuting distance!) Some students have jetted off to intern in Bermuda or Montana while others have stayed closer to home, interning at nearby museums like Winterthur and the Hagley Museum & Library.

Even beyond internships and class projects, partnerships with area museums are a major focus of the program. (In fact, Museum Studies recently received a major grant from IMLS to create more links between graduate students and the local museum community.) Museum Studies sponsors optional work projects over the winter break; one year a group of us went down to Laurel, Delaware for two weeks and helped volunteers at a historical society catalog, clean, and rehouse their collections. Partners tend to be small historical organizations rather than big city temples to art or science, but the lessons learned are transferable to other settings.

As for the vibe of the program, it is small and close-knit, with about 10 students in each cohort.  You have the sense that professors are invested in your success and will help you in whatever way they can. The academic year is peppered with Museum Studies events, ranging from happy hours and tea parties to resume workshops and field trips.

It helps that the University of Delaware offers funding to many masters students.  I did not have to pay for my degree—in fact, the university paid me through my assistantship. This is an incredible benefit in a time when many museum studies students leave their programs burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Without loans to pay back, one is more at liberty to accept low-paid but intriguing opportunities after the program ends.

All said, UD is excellent. I arrived with a one-page resume chronicling four years of work in development and marketing. I left with a two-pager detailing all sorts of invaluable new experiences in historical research, collections, and education that I would not have had otherwise.

If you would like to learn more about the program, I’d suggest visiting the program web page and reading back issues of the program newsletter (edited and designed for two years by yours truly). I’d also be happy to answer any questions via email; drop me a line at

Best of luck in your grad school quest!

Graduate Schools: Brown University

2 Nov

Our Graduate Schools post for today takes a look at the Brown University Masters program in Public Humanities. We have an assortment of reflections from current students, put together by alumna Kristen Costa from the Rhode Island EMP group. Many thanks to Kristen, Alex, Caroline, and Anna for their contributions!

School: Brown University

Degree: Master of Arts in Public Humanities

Location: Providence, RI

Program Emphasis: The Public Humanities program offers a flexible, diverse program to all students interested in topics incorporated within the broad field of the humanities, including policy, history, archaeology, the arts, etc. Thus, all who wish to explore the application of these fields in a public setting can all find a place within the Program to develop their skills. The Public Humanities is a very personal program. Everyone enters and leaves the program with different goals and interests. However, students are able to learn from each other and develop strong connections across disciplines to create a supportive environment for creative and innovative practice.

This two year masters program includes only two required courses, Introduction to the Public Humanities and Methods in the Public Humanities. Students can choose the remainder of their classes based on their specific area of interest. To enable students to explore and strengthen skills in their preferred field, the Program has replaced the usual written thesis with two practicum requirements, one that takes place during the summer between the two years and one during the first or second semester of their second year. Funding is provided for the summer practicum and students intern in a variety of settings around the U.S. and internationally.

An overarching goal of the program is to facilitate learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. Consequently, the Program also offers free workshops, lectures, and luncheons for students with prominent members of the humanities community. In addition, program funds are available to support attendance at conferences in students’ field of interest.

To illustrate the broad range of interests and activities found among participants in the Public Humanities, we have provided descriptions of three students currently enrolled in the Program.

Alex Goodman

I am second year student in the Public Humanities program. My focus is museum education with an emphasis on young audiences. As an undergrad, I majored in Art History and a minor in Educational Studies at Wellesley College. Outside of the classroom, I interned at a number of museums in Washington DC, including the Kreeger Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. The year before starting the program at Brown, I taught in the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, a lab school housed inside the Smithsonian that uses these outstanding museums as the base of their curriculum. It was this experience that led me to focus on early learners and pursue a Master’s degree in Public Humanities.

The Public Humanities program allows me the opportunity to take courses in art history, educational theory, museum studies, anthropology, and archaeology, and much more. The Program practicum experience, enabled me to split my summer field work between the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong and The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Working in the education department at the Asia Archive, I learned how active an archive can be and the ways an energetic organization can work to meet the needs of its audience in a rapidly evolving nation. The primary goal of The Walters Art is education, and my work in the Youth and Family division of the education department was truly inspiring. I am currently involved with my second practicum at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University
by expanding their offerings of youth outreach program. My goal is to design and implement a new partnership with a local pre-school to use the space as a learning resource for their students.

Caroline Griffith

I am a second-year student in the Public Humanities program. Like Alex, my focus is on museum education, but with an emphasis on young adult and adult audiences. As an undergraduate at Colby College, I majored in Visual Culture, an independent major that allowed me to explore the powerful ways that visual materials from fine art to the popular press have shaped our conception of both the past and the present. My focus is on 19th American history, and I like to use art and art museums to teach this period of history and explore its implications for life in America today. Last summer I interned with the Education Department at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and I am currently an intern with the Education Department at the RISD Museum of Art in Providence. My current project at RISD Museum of Art is the development of educational materials for the Take One Picture program, a partnership with Providence public schools that fosters the use of works in the RISD Collection to supplement and enrich middle and high school curriculums in social studies, literature, and the arts. I also have the opportunity at RISD to lead middle and high school students on tours through the museum and interact with them firsthand to learn what educational methods are most effective.

Anna Wada

Unlike most of the students in the program, I enrolled in the Public Humanities program right after receiving my undergraduate degree in history at Carleton College. I had gained some experience in archival, preservation, and cataloging work during college, but did not have many opportunities to interpret the materials I was working with, or consider questions of access and presentation. I eventually supplemented this through projects in my history and media production courses, working with topics related to memory or heritage. Wanting to continue searching for creative ways to combine these interests, the Public Humanities program was the ideal place where I could push myself to think out of the box.

Currently a second-year student, I have taken courses on oral history, museum education, cultural policy, collections management, museums in their communities, and creative practices in curation and cultural heritage. The core courses entailed discussions around case studies and emerging practices in the field, as well as putting theory into practice to develop our own exhibition. As I had been used to solitary academic work as a history major, it was a welcome challenge to work on a historical exhibition in teams. In addition, the professors connected students to members of outside institutions and local communities as guest lecturers, project partners, or audience, and it was very rewarding to be able to work on projects that did not stay contained within the classroom.

The program also funds community jobs, which gives students an opportunity to locate work outside of the John Nicholas Brown Center. Through my work I attempted to gain more knowledge of the digital humanities, as I worked with a professor to expand a digital exhibition on Japanese prints, and began working on a mobile app project with a historical society. My practicum at the National Museum of American History helped me to understand how museum professionals coordinate efforts for exhibition development, while working my own research and interactive design projects.

Professional Development: Personal Branding Workshop Reflections

31 Oct

The 2012 National EMP Event was two weeks ago, focused on personal branding and networking. I asked a few of the EMP leaders who helped put the events on to give us their perspectives on the events, so that people who weren’t able to attend or aren’t close to a host city can benefit from their knowledge. Thanks to Kristen and Samantha for their contributions!


Kristen Costa in Rhode Island:

RI EMPs had a great personal branding and networking workshop with Andrea McHugh, who is the Marketing and Communications Manager for the Newport RI Convention & Visitors Bureau. With Andrea’s career experience not only in marketing, but also with personal  branding ( she previously was a fulltime freelance writer and still runs a blog called “Newport Stylephile”), she was the perfect person for the workshop. It was really great to hear her personal insights about what branding means on the individual level and how important it is to think about personal strengths and weaknesses to know what to build and improve on. What I really loved the most about the workshop was the intimate setting that allowed all the participants to contribute stories from their experiences. Even though many of us are still in the early stages of our careers, most of the participants had great stories to tell of a time when networking or putting themselves out there really helped them in landing a job or an interview.

The other great aspect of our workshop was that we actually had a participant come who was not an EMP but was a local person who has been in the museum field for a few years, but is thinking about next steps as she moves from midcareer to wanting a leadership position. It was great to hear how a lot of her questions about her career future are similar in nature to those of EMPs; even though the years in the field might add up, a lot of the same questions and issues still come up. It really drove home the importance of making those important connections and relationships with colleagues and other professionals.

Without a doubt though, the most helpful and beneficial aspect of the workshop were the activity portions that really allowed me to think about my strengths, my quick ‘elevator’ speech, and what I am most proud of. I found this to be the best part not only because self-reflection is important in moving forward in a career, but also because so often at conferences or workshops we make notes of things to do ‘when we have time’ and never get around to doing them because of our busy work and life schedules.


Samantha Ringer in Washington D.C.:

The Workshop for Washington DC started out as a little bit of a challenge in terms of finding a space. We wanted the workshop to take place at a later time so that more people could attend. However since most museums close early in the fall and winter months, our goal was more difficult to achieve then we first thought. After calling a dozen or so places we asked Greg for help and he was were able to secure the International Spy Museum which proved to be a great space with an amazing staff. I also think that the later start time helped attendance since we had about 40 people register and attend.

The workshop was presented by Will Sandoval of the National Park Service and Rebecca Martin from the National Archives. While they split up the 2 sections amongst themselves, Will taking on personal branding while Becky tackled networking, they both interjected with their personal anecdotes when it was appropriate. This helped the presentation because their styles are so different that I think the audience was able to relate to one of them. Will’s main point about personal branding was that you’re projecting to people your brand not only with your resume or your interview but how you present yourself. Then once you get the job how you project yourself. He also pointed out that you need to figure out what you can do to make yourself invaluable to someone whether it’s knowing the ins and outs of a system that your company uses or its how to use Facebook and Twitter. Whatever it is you always want people coming to you. Becky pointed out that it’s not networking if you have a conversation with someone and you don’t follow up. Whether you just shoot them an email to say it was nice to meet you and look forward to seeing them around or asking them to get coffee because you want to talk more about x.

Promoting your brand, and correctly networking I think are 2 things that EMPs need to know. And I think that Becky and Will did a great job of how to do this effectively in their presentation. Overall I think it was a great experience for everyone involved and hopefully we can put out more workshops like this in the future.

Career Paths: EMPs in Administration

23 Oct

More and more lately I’m hearing stories about Emerging Museum Professionals in high level administrative positions. Oftentimes they’ve worked part-time or in lower level education or collections positions, and this may be their first full-time position in a museum. How do you handle that learning curve, when coupled with the responsibilities of being a director?

I’ve seen some good advice posted for people in these situations, and I thought I’d share some of them here.

  • Administrators are also responsible for their employee’s welfare, not simply the machinations of running the museum. Treat them well. Fair. The rewards are a team…with luck.
  • Don’t ask your employees/volunteers to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
  • One of the hardest things you’ll learn how to do is prioritize. There are great ideas out there, and an endless list of what you might be able to accomplish. You can’t do it all though, and figuring out what’s most important is a skill that needs to be intentionally developed.
  • Always react calmly and with grace, even if it means taking a few breaths.
  • There was an awesome interview on NPR with a woman who studies effective management. She said the thing that employees want more than anything is autonomy. They’ll take more money and praise, but they need to feel like they are in charge of some part of their own universe. She also said how imperative trust is, that once it is lost, a manager pretty much never gets it back. This extends to something that is a “perceived lie”—eg: you went to bat to get your employee a raise, you tell the employee the good news, but it won’t start until the next fiscal year, the economy changes and you have to rescind—-creates distrust. When your group does great work, praise your group, the glow will shine on you without you even saying so. These were all her ideas.

Please feel free to post your advice or any resources you’ve come across that might be relevant!

Graduate Schools: George Washington University

12 Oct

Today we’re back with a Graduate School profile, this time of George Washington University. The post was written by Amy Kuenzi, class of 2006 at GWU, and currently Associate Curator at the Harley Davidson Museum. Recently we had an e-mail here on the blog from a reader asking for more specifics about how the thesis works at each school, and Amy was kind enough to add a paragraph to her post. Thanks Amy! 

School: George Washington University

Degree: Masters of Arts in Museum Studies

Location: Washington, D.C.

Program Emphasis: concentrations in Collections Management, Exhibition Development/Design, or Museum Management & Leadership

I started volunteering in museums when I was a junior in high school, and the career path seemed an obvious one for me. I was a lot better at history than I was at calculus, so I decided at a young age to figure out how to make that into a job.

With some volunteer experience and a BA in history from the University of Rochester, I sought out Museum Studies Master’s Degree programs. I decided on GWU for a few reasons: Museum Studies is its own department, the program combines practical experience with classroom and theory, and the location in DC is unparalleled for the experiences available.

The MA program combines half Museum Studies classes with half in another discipline. The concentrations within the Museum Studies offerings are: Administration, Collections Management, and Exhibit Design. I chose a traditional History track to combine with my Collections Management concentration. The work focused on critical thinking, group work and historical analysis, all of which are necessary in the field. I think the program is suited for students who do well with group work as well as individual assignments, and are able to balance a demanding load of coursework and internship requirements, as well as being comfortable navigating a new, large, often daunting city.

There are limitless opportunities for internships in DC, some paid and some unpaid. The program requirement is two internships at different kinds of museums, for 250 hours each. I, and many classmates, did it by working part time for one semester each. My advisor helped set me up with internships that fit my interests. The professors know almost everyone in town, so they can put students in touch with a wide variety of opportunities.

The MA Museum Studies program does not require a thesis. Instead, students must fulfill the “graduate writing requirement,” where you submit a written piece that could be suitable for publication. I submitted a research paper that I had written for a history class. The goal is to encourage skills in academic writing.

As I was attending GWU, it became the most expensive school in the country for undergraduates, in one of the nation’s most expensive cities. I took out loans to pay for my tuition and also my living expenses, and worked part-time jobs as my schedule allowed. It was a serious financial commitment, and also a very personal decision, but GWU is a prestigious school, in a city that is a historian’s dream come true.

My experience at GWU, both in the classroom and in the city, helped prepare me for a successful career in the museum field. I am currently the associate curator of the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI. My team is responsible for exhibit development, research, web content writing and curation, and our social media program where we share company history, show archival documents, and interact with our customers.

Curator’s Corner: A New Method of Storytelling

9 Oct

This post is a combination of two in our normal series – curation and professional development. Curation because it deals with how museums use their collections to tell stories. Professional development because, in my personal case, it’s an example of how our hobbies can influence our formal careers. And this topic seems particularly appropriate given that Storytelling is the theme for the 2013 AAM meeting.

The StoryNexus logo

I would like to introduce all of you to StoryNexus, a new platform for making games that’s been made available to the public this week for free. It’s produced by a company out of England called Fail Better Games. Several months ago they announced that they were accepting people into a limited beta test of the public version of their platform, which I was lucky enough to be a part of. After rigorous testing they were ready to make the platform available to anyone – anyone – that wants to make a game.

Games have a powerful capacity to engage their audiences and tell a story. I’m not a serious video gamer, but I definitely enjoy the right ones. For me this ranges from the mindless fun of Katamari Damacy to the much more serious Assassin’s Creed series. In the latter case, the story is a large part of what keeps me playing, but there’s also an aesthetic element. The game is beautifully designed and evokes such a strong sense of place that I  both feel like I’ve now been to both Italy and Turkey (though I haven’t), and I also can’t escape the longing to visit the places myself (though I’ve explored them extensively in the game). Instead of ruining the experience, the game only made my desire to visit these places stronger.

I’ve often thought that the same ideas could be applied to museums – that instead of making people feel like they’ve already “been there, done that,” games could help capture peoples imaginations. It promotes a sense of ownership, if you’ve played a game that takes place around a specific setting, it encourages a connection. StoryNexus has a lot of potential to accomplish that for museums, for very little cost.

Most StoryNexus games revolve around fictional worlds. The original Fail Better Games production is Fallen London, a world in which London has been dragged to hell by Queen Victoria selling the souls of the inhabitants to save the life of Prince Albert. One of the more substantial games developed on the new free platform is Zero Summer, a post apocalyptic western. There’s a wide variety of games being developed since the closed beta test began two months ago, several of which are stable enough to be played by the general public, listed on the StoryNexus front page.

A screenshot from the game Zero Summer

When I found out about StoryNexus, I was immediately inspired by its educational potential. I’ve been experimenting with a game I’ve titled Evolve. I’m not a game designer by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s been great fun putting this together. It takes the player from a single-celled organism up through the evolutionary chain, and so far I’ve written content up to the split between the bacteria and archaea. The possibilities with this particular topic are nearly boundless though, and players have already requested the ability to become dinosaurs, coyotes, and creatures with magical abilities. On my end, I’ll just be happy if they now know what a ribosome is.

A screenshot from the game Evolve

I can imagine great things made on StoryNexus by museums, especially local history museums. Once image upload is functional (probably several months out), museums will be able to use their own collections on cards and backgrounds. Games can be used to engage a younger audience, can supplement school programs, or just help tell the story of your museum. How wonderful would it be to travel through the 1893 World’s Fair, visiting each of the exhibition halls? Or to uncover the story of how your town was founded, having conversations with local figures out of history?

People care about stories when they’re able to make a personal attachment to it. I strongly recommend taking a look at StoryNexus as a way of making our museum stories come alive. So many museums struggle to integrate technology into their outreach, mostly due to cost; that isn’t as much of an issue here. With the recent trend towards making things available through creative commons, there’s going to be an increasing number of technological offerings for museums to consider, and EMPs would do well to familiarize themselves with some of the promising ones. I would count StoryNexus among these, and it’s worth taking a close look at it.

Graduate Schools: Bank Street College of Education

5 Oct

When I was choosing a graduate school, there was a lot of compromise on the table: financial cost vs. program opportunities, whether to attend a general studies program or one with a strict focus, and on a more personal note where my husband was willing to move to fulfill his own educational interests. We ended up finding an excellent mix of all our needs, and it’s served me well over the last 3 years. But if I’m going to be completely honest with myself, there’s a tiny twinge of regret that I wasn’t able to seriously consider today’s featured program – Bank Street College of Education. Laurel Fehrenbach, Public Programs Coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, brings us a detailed post about her time at Bank Street. For more on the student perspective on Bank Street, you can check out their tumblr page.

Also, a quick reminder that if you haven’t voted for your favorite AAM sessions yet, today’s your last day to do so! 


School: Bank Street College of Education

Degree: Leadership in Museum Education

Location: New York, New York, USA

Program Emphasis: the program combines educational theory and practice while developing leadership skills and an understanding of organizational structure to show how “museum education” can be a pervasive and crucial part of a museum’s function at every level.

Last year’s class at the Bank Street College of Education program

There are two Museum Education degrees offered at Bank Street, but I’ll be specifically talking about the Leadership program. I applied to this program because I wanted my master’s degree to be prepared for future jobs, but I didn’t want to leave my current job as the Public Programs Coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This degree is a two-year intensive course designed specifically for people working in the field. The Leadership program students meet just once a month in New York for a Friday evening and a full-day on Saturday. Each month is a new class, so you are focusing on just one topic at a time. The rest of the month, between classes, is your time to complete assignments for the previous class or do the prep work and reading for the upcoming class. The best part of this is, deadlines and due dates notwithstanding, you can do the work based on your work and personal schedule. You do have to be a fairly self-directed student in order to make sure you don’t fall behind; however, a helpful advisor, teacher or classmate is never out of reach. The weekends in New York are mandatory, but I think many of my classmates would agree that it was far easier to dedicate two days a month, rather than two or three evenings a week to attend regular classes at a local program. Finally, in June there is a weeklong Institute that is full of site-visits to various institutions, presentations, conversations… and a party, or two, of course!

In terms of content, one year focuses on the foundation of education theory, human development, collaborations and exhibition and interpretive planning, etc. The other year is centered on museum management and leadership, including marketing, strategic planning, finance, grant writing and fundraising. These courses prepare students to take on leadership roles and challenge you to see how education and audience fit within the structure and mission of an organization. Because the classes are only a weekend (and not a full semester) it attracts some of the best and brightest professionals in the field to come and teach. We had the Undersecretary of Education for the Smithsonian, a director of an art museum, the head of education from an international museum and a myriad of well known and respected experts, consultants, scholars and innovators at our disposal to learn from them directly.

The structure and content of the program reflects the deeply ingrained “theory and practice” philosophy of Bank Street. After each class, students go back to their home institutions with new ideas, interesting conversations and complex reflections that breathe new life into their colleagues and their work. The flip-side to this can also be a sense of dismay and frustration when our places of work don’t jump at the chance to adopt the same philosophy, or would prefer to not make any changes. Rather than find this discouraging, the program helps you to think strategically about what ideas you think are important, articulate outcomes that could serve the mission of your institution, create buy-in and ultimately make a difference for your museum, your audience and yourself.

First and second year students are in the same classes together, so veteran students can offer a type of mentoring to new classmates, but the first year students also provide fresh perspectives and a new dynamic in the classroom. The class of 16-20 students is divided into groups of 4 or 5 (a mix of first and second years) called a conference group, which are assigned to one of the four faculty advisors. Conference groups meet during lunch on Saturdays to discuss any topic of relevance or just check in with one another as colleagues. Sometime before class on Friday night, each student will meet privately with their advisor to talk about any personal issues with class works, jobs, interviews, life etc. It is an open time to for student and advisor to cover what they decide is important. Advising sessions and conference group meetings are almost sacred elements to the Leadership program.

Your conference group becomes an instant community and resource, and your advisor becomes a “go-to” confidante who has an incredibly deep understanding about you as a whole person, not just a student or just an employee. I think, advising and conference groups are the part that I miss the most, post-graduation. In the second year, students will being to compile what is affectionately known as the Arc of Understanding and build a portfolio of all your work from both years. The purpose of the Arc and portfolio is to assess and reflect on your time at Bank Street. How have you changed as a learner and educator, student and employee? How has your thinking changed? What have you taken from your classes and directly applied to your work? You will summarize all this in a 20 minute presentation to faculty and students at the end of the weeklong June Institute, and then answer approximately 10 minutes of questions. It is a difficult and challenging, but ultimately rewarding, exercise that forces you to truly evaluate your accomplishments and how you will carry what you’ve learned forward in your career.

The program is reflection heavy, in that it is a constant theme on many levels. The Arc is a very large- scale, big-picture reflection. However, each month you have to submit a small reflection on the previous class and think about how the content of the class has implications for you personally, for your institution, and for the field. There is a constant emphasis on how leadership inherently requires thinking beyond you and beyond the present. Leadership requires vision and direction, but also learning from past experiences in order to shape that vision. My absolute favorite part of the program is that students come from a large variety of cultural institutions all around the country. I come from an art museum background, and a large and old institution. However, the program brings us all together to find a common language amongst our colleagues at small art centers, botanical gardens, children’s museums and natural history museums, just to name a few. Even better, I have a network of classmates and friends in rural Texas, Boston, Milwaukee, Memphis, Atlanta, New York, and right here in DC, and more. It is an extensive and close-knit group that has never failed to lend a helping hand, encouragement, or a new perspective that furthers your thinking and deepens our commitment to our work in this field.

Current Events: EMP Event and AAM Session Voting

2 Oct

I promised an update on the EMP Event, and registration is officially open. The Personal Branding Workshops will be taking place in nine cities from Oct. 15th-19th. There’s an impressive list of speakers ranging from the executive director of the New England Museum Association to the interim chair of the JFK University Museum Studies program in the Bay Area. There are registration links for each of the host cities, but if you have general program questions you can e-mail Greg Stevens at

The second exciting thing to tell you about is that voting is now open on the AAM 2013 session proposals. The Center of the Future of Museums blog discussed the topic today, explaining that there’s no strict formula for how the “votes” are going to be considered, but they definitely won’t hurt. So, be sure to login at the AAM website (or register, if you haven’t yet!), and go show your support for the fabulous sessions that have been proposed.

Today on the EMP facebook page I asked people to let us know if any EMPs had submitted proposals or were involved in them. These are the ones that I know about so far, listed by their row number:

#293: “Stories Without Words: Constructing Narratives Through Objects and Artifacts.” This session is going to explore some of the most contemporary ways that museums are using objects to tell stories, looking at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and the Maryland Historical Society.

#330: “Emerging Museum Professionals – Our Stories.” This is a bit of shameless promotion, with my own proposal. It’s about EMPs and (predictably) their stories, utilizing the theme of the conference to highlight and document the stories of our group. I’ll be the session leader, and I’ve recruited a wonderful set of EMPs to tell stories as well. Kate Laurel Burgess-Mac Intosh has contributed to the blog in the past, as has Mark Schlemmer. Nancy York is the president of the Greater Phoenix Area EMP Group, and between the three of them I think we’re going to hear some unique and inspiring tales from the field. We’ll also be inviting stories from people in the audience, to share their perspectives and experiences with being an EMP.

#1: “The Future of Museum Education.” Two of our EMP friends (@timrhueii and @museums365 on twitter) got possibly the most coveted spot in the entire session list – they’re #1. While I can’t say for certain that they’ve got the top number of “likes” so far, I would guess they’re in the top 5. That doesn’t make them less worthy of your vote! And I promise I’m not just saying that because I agreed to be one of the provacateurs; I attended this session last year and it was one of the most stimulating of the entire conference for me. I’m incredibly excited to see what happens during the 2013 conversation, if the proposal is accepted.

I’m confident that there are more sessions that include EMPs, and we’ll try to update this post as we find out about them (or leave us a comment!). Otherwise, we encourage you to check out the other session description and throw your support behind them. The 50+ page session list can be a little intimidating, but it’s worth it to look at the amazingly diverse proposals that have been submitted. I’ve personally been trying to pick a random page number from the middle of the pack to make sure that those in the latter half of the list are getting attention too.

Voting ends Friday October 5th. So be sure to head over and add your votes asap!


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