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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