Monthly Archives: April 2014

Staying Relevant in the Workforce: SHA and You

WHBI_Marc_pounding_carcinite_post4_2014I am a lucky guy. Last summer, I received an e-mail from the office of the historian of the National Park Service. Dr. Robert Sutton was offering to pay the way to SHA for several employees. Until that moment, I had never heard of the SHA and had not really been involved with AASLH on a regular basis. After scrolling through the website, looking at the syllabus, it piqued my interest and I applied. Much to my surprise, I was accepted into the program. In the National Park Service, it is almost a given that if you want to move up in the organization, more often than not, you have to move on. I had been looking for training that would strengthen my management skills and expose me to a part of my field that I knew something about but was craving to learn more. Over the course of the three weeks in Indianapolis I absorbed the information as it came at us. While I didn’t agree with everything that was shared with us and got frustrated when we didn’t have time for more dialogue, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the class. As we move deeper into the 21st Century, the National Park Service is exploring ways to leverage its mission with the work of partner organizations. SHA provided insight into the challenges that many of our partner organizations face and, in a roundabout way, how we can get more work done if we build a relationship with the private sector. A valuable lesson indeed.

It’s now been about six months since returning from Indianapolis. While I can’t say that I have a new job because of SHA (I am trying) or a new title, I do have something that I think I value even more – perspective. I have worked for the National Park Service for the last eighteen years. We are so taken by the day-to-day issues, we rarely have a chance to step back and take a long look at the field. SHA provided that. Moreover, what made the class even more fulfilling were the people who I interacted with every day. Regardless of the uniform we wear or the mission that we work too, everyone in the room works toward the same goal – making their institutions relevant to the community. It allowed me to gain some insight into the professional values I hold, what I need to contribute to make my profession more relevant to the people around me, and how to lead change to the future. It took about a month to process all of the information I heard, but in the end, I think it’s safe to say, the SHA is one of those pivotal experiences that will make a positive and lasting difference in my professional life.

Marc Blackburn (SHA ’13), National Park Service

Applications for SHA are due Monday, May 19. For more information, click here.

Save the Date: 2014 AASLH Annual Meeting and Online Conference

st paul imageAnnual Meeting: September 17-20, 2014
in St. Paul, Minnesota

Online Conference: September 18-19, 2014
Live on the Web!

Nothing can replace the opportunities that arise when you intersect with people who come together around common goals and interests — good history and good times.

In 2014, the AASLH Annual Meeting in St. Paul enables us to explore ways to be “greater than the sum of our parts.”

Come see why History Matters!

The host hotel for the 2014 AASLH Meeting is the Crowne Plaza St. Paul overlooking the beautiful Mississippi River.

You can make your reservations now!

Premier Sponsor


Family, Motherhood, and SHA

Jess at deskMy husband deserves much of the credit for my SHA experience, by way of logistics. In October 2012, I left him behind in a house newly purchased and piled to the ceiling with boxes, abandoning him to balance his demanding work hours with the needs of three small children.

As a chef, he circulates in an entirely different world than mine. His are long days after hours, working in the mediums of daily routine and careful inventory and transitory staff, while mine are spent in a constantly changing schedule of research and outreach and networking.

But what he has never failed to understand (and this is the important thing our career choices have in common) is my zeal for my job. He watches me climb onto my soapbox and prattle on about the importance of history education and the role of museums, just as I listen to his musings about seasonal menu change and problematic food cost. When I first mentioned SHA, he told me, “Well, of course you should apply,” because, despite my zeal, opportunities for me to fully engage in learning are rare.

When I got on a plane to Indianapolis, nine weeks pregnant with our fourth child, it was with the understanding that the separation would be difficult on both ends. From Indy, I struggled to justify leaving my family, all the while rejoicing in the learning and relationships I was building there. The first conversation I had over the phone with my daughter ended in tears, for both of us, when she realized that I would be gone for three weeks and not three days.  From Minnesota, my husband struggled to keep everyone afloat.

That three-week separation was a tremendous lesson for me. The content of SHA and the incredible people I got to know have been a current of encouragement since I returned. But it was really the time away from home that taught me about the community necessary to make my museum work live in harmony with my wife-mommy work. In Indy, I listened and discussed with my colleagues, who were very supportive as I battled morning sickness and cried openly in class. In Minnesota, my family moved Heaven and Earth to make sure that I could be in a place that would allow me to be better at the job I love.

Ultimately, it was a cost-benefit analysis. There’s nothing more important to me than my family, and as a working mom, I’ve always wrestled with the dilemma of leaving my kids behind. The time spent at SHA, however, eased my fears that I was abandoning my children for my job. Instead, I’m showing them that I contribute to the family income by way of a passionate mission to serve and educate. If I love what I do, and my children can clearly see that, it fosters confidence in their ability to choose a path that inspires them.

The community of colleagues and the community of family continue to prop me up as I grapple with the demands of my profession. Despite the difficulty of being away those three weeks, it was time well-spent. I found new motivation from my colleagues, both at SHA and here at the Minnesota Historical Society, and a deeper respect for the contributions of my family. We all have unique cheering sections – be it kids or spouses or pets or parents or co-workers – and it’s a great benefit to our work when their support allows us to be invested in all the things that matter to us.

Jessica Ellison (SHA ’12), Communications Specialist, Minnesota Historical Society

Changes for the Class of 2011: Clarity, Growth, Co-Conspirators

kylemckoyOne day during DHL@SHA, after I had listened to Indiana Historical Society‘s President/CEO John Herbst’s presentation,  I asked him to lunch through his assistant. I even paid for it because I did the asking!  John had information I knew I needed. He had already conquered some of the challenges I was facing at my own institution–and SHA gave me the confidence to go straight to the source and ask for help. After that lunch, he became what I consider an “unwitting mentor.” Once I returned to Arizona where I had worked for the last ten years or so–and had been Museum Director for one year, I emailed him and called him several times to run ideas past him, to ask for his advice–and he always answered. Between what I had gleaned from my overall SHA experience and through the specific interactions with John, my thought process changed. My confidence was bolstered to trust myself and move forward in the direction I believed to be true…I did not simply think about taking risks–I began proposing and taking those risks.

I gained clarity. I understood, more clearly than ever before, my personal thoughts, beliefs, and abilities. I honed in on my professional goals and objectives. Clarity was a result of my experience at SHA and from the people with whom I interacted.

Fast forward two years–I received a job offer that seemed as if I wrote if for myself. My husband quit his job, we packed up the cat and car, and moved cross country. I am now VP of Education and Exhibitions at IHS. Now, John and I have two separate stories about how this happened. I tell everyone that I bugged him until he hired me. He says that I made an impression on him at SHA was on his radar since. I am sure there is the real story somewhere in the middle.

My point is that you never know where SHA will lead you–or to whom SHA will lead you.

Kyle McKoy (SHA ’11), Vice President of Education and Exhibitions, Indiana Historical Society


cyncapersIn DHL@SHA, I kept hearing that we were to think of how to be leaders in the field. And, there I sat, thinking about how I still felt new in my museum career and unsure of where that would lead. See, when I participated in SHA I was trying to better understand the field, a field I entered through classroom teaching. My institution had just gone through our initial accreditation process — and in a classroom analogy, I felt one chapter ahead of the students. I was the primary author of our interpretive plan — and that was after learning just what that document was!

But the thing is, you hear something often enough and you start to believe it. After SHA I realized I didn’t want to just have knowledge about the field, I wanted to grow into a leader at my institution. And, for the small institution I came from, that meant leading from the middle. And yet, I was able to co-develop the bones of an institutional evaluation plan, be a voice for developing new revenue streams, and develop other projects within my primary duties as a museum educator. I grew a lot in those two years, both personally and professionally. And then…

My SHA classmate, Kyle, moved to the Indiana Historical Society in 2013. She and I had kept in touch since the program (most of my classmates have kept in touch over the past 2+ years). I always knew I could turn to Kyle as a sounding board and a cheerleader! We had discussed articles about leadership and management styles. She’d once recruited me for a position at her old site, which didn’t work out because of timing. But, when a position opened up at IHS, I applied on day one. Here was a chance to have an on-site mentor, rise to the next level of leadership and be a part of a team implementing new vision. I’m now the Director of Education and Community Engagement at IHS.

It’s been two amazing months since I’ve moved. I’ve found co-conspirators at my new place (you’ll understand the power of that term at SHA), and I’m over the moon about where I’ve landed. I could not have predicted how SHA would change me at the time, but I know that it shaped me into the leader I am today.

Cynthia Capers (SHA ’11), Director of Education and Community Engagement, Indiana Historical Society

Investing in the Future of the Field

Melissa Prycer

2013 Denny O’Toole Scholarship recipient, Melissa Prycer

Around four months ago, I packed up my car and headed north to Indianapolis. Many of my friends scoffed: “What on earth will you be doing in Indianapolis for three weeks?” Quite honestly, I wasn’t truly able to explain—professional development seminar sounds so boring! And about history museums? No wonder my friends were confused.

Now that I’m back home in Dallas, I can’t stop talking about my experience at SHA, the friends I made and the lessons I learned. I’ve given little talks about SHA to the board, staff—and scoffing friends. I’ve used SHA-proven exercises during strategic planning sessions, discussed some articles with staff, and had them do the work-style quiz. In other words, the giant SHA notebook comes off the shelf about once a week.

Though I’m confident that deciding to apply to SHA was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, it wasn’t without risks and sacrifices. Putting your life on hold for three weeks is hard. And when the annual professional development budget for a department is half what SHA costs, the expense itself can be risky for an institution with a tight budget. Winning the Denny O’Toole Scholarship removed my financial risk in attending SHA. I’m very conscious of the investment AASLH and the other partners put into me and my institution through this gift. And I’m more than ready to give back!

Think of giving to the Denny O’Toole Scholarship Fund as a way of saying thank you—for all the conversations, meals, beverages, jokes, and moments of inspiration. You’re not just providing an opportunity for someone to have the SHA experience—you’re investing in the future of the field.

Click here to download the donation form. Should you wish to donate online, click here and select SHA Denny O’Toole Scholarship Fund.

Thank you for your support—and I hope to see you in the Twin Cities this fall!

Melissa Prycer
President & Executive Director
Dallas Heritage Village

PS: Act soon, contribute to a colleague’s life-changing experience through the Denny O’Toole Scholarship!

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