From Intern to Staff Member to Higher Education and Beyond

Posted on February 24th, 2014 by

The past six months have been life-changing for me, largely due to my work with the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I gained so much valuable knowledge this summer from working as an intern in the Education and Programs department, helping with school and camp groups as well as assisting with and creating new programs for visitors of all ages. My experience led me to the conclusion that I should pursue a career in museum work, with a focus on the public side of museum operations.

I studied dance and English at Goucher College, and have since learned the art of teaching and performing static aerial arts and flying trapeze. During my internship, I often discussed my future goals and plans with my supervisors and fellow interns. Within the museum field, there are many different areas of study, and thus, many different paths to choose. My background in performing arts gives me the unique advantage of absolutely loving public speaking. Consequently, the time I spent working as a docent for tours and as a guide for groups helped me create some of my favorite moments of my internship. I learned so much from these moments, including the idea that if you gain the trust of visitors and students, they will open up to you about their curiosity, and give you the opportunity to share more of your knowledge with them.

My experiences working with visitors and helping to run the public side of the museum made me hungry for more. I loved coming to work every single day. Even though my internship was ending in August, I wasn’t ready to leave the museum. I consulted Ilene about the coming year. She and I agreed: I should become a Museum Educator. I could come to the museum on a part-time basis, allowing me to keep the same hours at my other job. I could continue working on curriculum development, helping to update the new education Facebook page, and, most importantly, working with school groups on tours as well as facilitating educational programs with them. It was a great opportunity to spend more time learning first-hand about working in museums.

I also made the decision at the end of the summer to apply to graduate school, but still didn’t know exactly what field to choose. I enjoyed learning so much; I honestly had trouble deciding what I didn’t want to study. Additionally, I had difficulty choosing which graduate school strategy was best for me; would I be served better by getting a degree in a specific field of study? Or, if I pursued a more general degreesuch as Museum Studieswould it hinder more than help my career because of its lack of focus? Lucky enough to be working in a museum during this confusing time, I consulted essentially every person I worked with on a regular basis. Although I received many suggestions, I eventually realized that I knew more than I thought about which path I should take. Nonetheless, hearing about the different journeys of those with whom I spoke helped to more brightly illuminate my intended path.

I made my choice: I am now applying for a master’s degree in Museum Studies. Museum Education was a field that I felt was too similar to my previous graduate studies—a graduate teaching certificate for TESL. Other museum degrees, like Exhibition Design and Preservation, were fascinating to me, but I wanted to broaden my scope of potential employment. There are Museum Studies programs all over the US, but after consulting several long-time museum professionals, I felt confident that, if my primary goal was to find a job in the museum field upon finishing my degree, George Washington University was my best bet. The fact that GW is one of the oldest and best-known programs in the field, as well as the endless possibilities for flexibility of curriculum, customization of concentration, networking, and internship choices the program offers made my choice to apply very easy. I chose the exhibition and public engagement concentration, which puts the focus of the master’s degree on the study of the visitor relationship with the museum.

I am now in the final stages of completing my application, and I can say that my experience at the Jewish Museum these past seven months has been truly invaluable to my professional progress. Without the JMM internship, and subsequently my experience as a Museum Educator, I would be miles from reaching my goal of lending my perspective to a field of work that I have come to love so much.

Marissa WalkerA blog post by Museum Education Marissa Walker.

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The West Wing Interns’ Display Case Project: Journey to Inspiration

Posted on August 7th, 2013 by

Marissa WalkerA blog post by Education Intern Marissa Walker. Marissa is supervised by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Marissa and other JMM interns, click here.

About two weeks ago, Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman gave all the interns an assignment: create a small display including collections objects, photographs, or archival documents to be displayed in the exhibition preview display case in the lobby of the museum. Interns were divided into groups of two or three and each group was given a different subject or theme to focus on in their display plans. Trillion and I were grouped together, since we are the only two interns on the West side of the museum and are working in the same department. The wide range of topics for this display project included archeology, the march on Washington, and our topic, Education.

At first, Trillion and I were a bit concerned. We were excited to participate in a project that would lead to a direct contribution to the museum’s public displays, but were overwhelmed by the enormity of our topic. Education is the focus of every parent, teacher, and student who walks through the doors of the Jewish Museum, or any museum, for that matter. We began to explore Past Perfect, our online archives and collections database, hoping to find inspiration. Thinking it might be interesting to do a study on the Hebrew day schools of Baltimore, past and present, we started with the most general search we could think of: “school.”

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A few thousand search results later,  we came upon an interesting collection of memorabilia from what seemed to be a camp for displaced persons in Munich, Germany. The Gaulan School was established by a couple named Nechama and Paul Spector, who had donated several of their important documents and photographs to the museum collection. Feeling confident, we tried a simple google search, hoping to find a jumping-off point for more research on the topic of the school. Although searching for Paul Spector turned up nothing in particular, Nechama’s death announcement in the Baltimore Sun gave us a few more dates around which we could make a mental timeline.

Based on our findings, we decided to pursue a display case focusing on the Spectors and their educational journey. This prompted an email to Jobi Zink, head of collections, in which we requested the transcript of Paul Spector’s oral history. Jobi obliged by not only pulling his oral history, but digging up the entire Spector collection of documents from the archives for us. Excited and filled with anticipation, Trillion and I dove (very carefully and with cloth gloves, of course) into the oral history. Although the conversational style of Paul’s oral history made it a bit difficult to follow,  we did gather some important information about his life pre-WWII, which helped us put his journey into context. Feeling that we had more of a lead, we turned to the additional documents Jobi had pulled for us from the Spectors.

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In the folder we found a teaching certificate for Paul Spector, and a letter of recommendation that, based on the information in his oral history, we could say with relative certainty came from the Gaulan School  the year he decided to move to America (1949). We also found what seemed to be a magazine detailing the activities and happenings in the displaced persons camp in which the Spectors taught, as well as current events. Because the document was written in German and Yiddish, we recruited Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon to help translate some of the headlines and bylines for the various articles inside. Ilene was overjoyed; the Spectors had been her Hebrew teachers when she was a child! She speculated that she might even have some of her old report cards from them, complete with Nechama’s signature.

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Well on our journey to an engaging and relevant display, we are now gearing up for the last two weeks of our internship. I have learned so much this summer about every aspect of museum work. The research and collaboration that the museum workplace requires is only one small part of the knowledge I will be taking with me. This display project has been one of many great teaching tools in my museum work education, and has inspired me to continue on the path to professional museum work.

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Gettysburg: A Jumping-Off Point for Civil War Education

Posted on July 2nd, 2013 by

Marissa WalkerA blog post by Education Intern Marissa Walker. To read additional posts by Marissa and other interns, click here.

Last Friday, the Education and Programs department took a work trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We had recently been discussing the museum’s upcoming Jews in the Civil War exhibit extensively with the museum’s curator, Karen Falk, and were hoping to gain some inspiration through an exploration of the famous Civil War battlefield.

image 1After a brief peek into the Visitor Center, we grabbed a map and began our journey through history on the first leg of the Auto Tour around the historic site. With Education Director Ilene at the wheel and Programs Manager Rachel ceremoniously guiding us through the tour map with much gusto, we immersed ourselves in the story of America’s bloodiest battle. There could be no self-respecting historic battle recap without historically accurate background music and sound effects, so I provided the bugle blares, while intern Trillion banged the theoretical drums, and visitor coordinator Abby filled out the treble clef with some excellent “fife” playing.  We felt very patriotic, indeed.

image 2After exploring the first half of the auto tour and the northern portion of the battlefield, we backtracked to the town surrounding the site and met Museum President Marvin Pinkert for a very productive brainstorming lunch. During our meal, we discussed possible educational programs and activities to include in the package we might offer school groups coming to see the Civil War exhibit in the fall.

image 3One idea we tossed around was a “Make a Monument” activity. In theory, kids would design their own monument, explain what it represents, write about why they chose to commemorate that particular person, event, or place. This idea sprung from our amazement at all the different monuments and commemorations found all over the Gettysburg battlefield, each one immortalizing a different person or group of people, and completely unique.

image 7We had also had a chance to speak with a few living historians during our visit, and agreed that a great addition to the exhibit might be a very simple military-issue tent set up, where young kids would be able to interact with the living quarters typical of a soldier during the Civil War time period. Sutlers, a stores specializing in historically accurate reproductions of clothing, utensils, and general accouterments of soldiers and their families on the home front, typically carry these kinds of items, so we decided to go out in search of one before we began our drive back.

image 6After an enjoyable walk and a lovely, if slightly unexpected, rain shower, we found one! It was delightful to browse through all of the interesting items re-enactors use on a daily basis to authenticate their characters, and to see the world of possibilities for kids programs and activities. Feeling exhilarated and excited to bring our ideas to fruition, we parted ways with Marvin, and headed back to the car, and south towards Baltimore, intent on incorporating all we had learned into our future museum education plans.

Check back tomorrow for a different perspective on the Gettysburg field trip from none other than our Executive Director Marvin Pinkert!

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