Monthly Archives: May 2015
– by Jamie Glavic
I’m eight weeks into my new gig at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – which strangely feels like a homecoming. Why you ask? Because on my first day I was hugged by co-workers, knew where to put my lunch and didn’t have to ask where the restrooms were. I’ve been here before. When I attended SHA in 2011 I was the Digital and Creative Content Manager at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The training, coaching and advice I received at SHA, and beyond by my SHA cohort, has lead me back to this special place.
In the summer of 2012 I started a new job at the Ohio History Connection. Perhaps you’ve heard of an alum or two, or more, who changed jobs after their time at SHA. I’m one of them. I left the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to work for the Ohio History Connection. It was a challenging decision but it was the right choice for me – it was an opportunity to grow and broaden my skill set. And for nearly three years that’s what I did. I had the pleasure of working with archaeologists, archivists and librarians on a regular basis. I was part of a fantastic team that was charged with the delivery and messaging of a new organizational name and visual identity. It was exciting – and at times a bit overwhelming – but I know without a doubt I am a stronger history and communications professional for making the jump to something new.
Now, I’m back where I started.
I was an intern for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center when I was an undergrad. I worked the ticketing desk for a year and interviewed for a Communications Assistant position. Fast forward – welcome to the Office of the Director of Marketing and Communications (that’s me!).
How did this happen?
Developing History Leaders at the Seminar for Historical Administration.
SHA is about building, cultivating and guiding leaders in the history field. What makes a leader stand out is their relationship with their organization, their colleagues and their communities. Relationships are paramount in our line of work. I maintained a great relationship with my former colleagues – presenting at conferences, brainstorming ideas, making connections for partnership opportunities and personally, never forgetting where I came from. The relationship I had with my former organization (now current) is reflective of the relationship I have with my SHA class – I am an advocate, champion and supporter.
When I describe my professional journey I can’t help but smile – I didn’t anticipate being in this position in 2012, but its 2015 and I am – and I have SHA to thank for that.
Director of Marketing and Communications
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
– by Tim Hoogland
When I was considering my application for SHA it took a year of looking at the promotional brochure, reading the emails, and pondering the question that all applicants must consider – is it the “right time” to apply.
For me there was also another layer of consideration. The intent of the seminar is to develop emerging leaders, and although there is no age restriction in the application, to me that seemed to be those “thirty-somethings” who were rising in their organizations. I had already been on much of that journey. As I considered my application I was nearly 50 and a senior manager at one of the largest historical organizations in the country. But the prospect of the Seminar still called to me.
After a year of contemplation I finally decided to apply. The key to my decision wasn’t about my age or experience. What drove my application is that much of my career was spent in a single programmatic area. My focus was on education outreach programs (especially National History Day), K-12 curriculum and higher education partnerships. My office was in a building anchored by a museum, filled with archival and manuscript collections, the central administration of our historic sites network, and home to the State Historic Preservation Office. Proximity, however, did not break down the silos of my work.
In my application essay I emphasized that the value of the Seminar would be to fill in those gaps in my experience. It would have been possible for me to further network through my own institution, but that also brings with it the limits of insularity. I would be the first applicant from the Minnesota Historical Society in many years. In addition to my own experience I hoped that this would broaden our institutional perspective.
So – how did it all turn out?
Applying to the seminar was the best decision of my career. It turns out that older dogs can learn new tricks. I built on the experiences of my cohort to improve my work. I learned more about interpretation, museum practice and the challenges of leadership than I could have hoped. I continue to benefit from the network that consists of my class and others that followed. The Minnesota Historical Society has had members in every class since 2008, and I enjoy the privilege of co-instructing the SHA workshop at the AASLH annual meeting.
Regardless of your age or experience, if you feel the call of the kind of professional development that SHA provides, then take the leap and apply. Even if you don’t think the timing is quite right, I hope that you consider the workshop in Louisville and get a sample of the SHA experience.
Director of Education Outreach Programs
Minnesota Historical Society
Affiliated Instructor of History
University of Minnesota
– by Kathryn M. Blackwell
What did I gain from SHA? A lot! It helps with organizing what’s going on at my work, and helps to put it in perspective. I know in my mind that we’re *not* the only ones who are going through __X__. That everyone is struggling with the question of how to stay relevant, how to attract new audiences, and basically how to make a difference doing something that we enjoy. Because let’s be honest, no one goes into this field looking for money. I gained a lot of insight into what other people were doing at their institutions to stay on top of changing audiences and their needs and interests — through using technology, through new exhibits or programs, and just by networking with our colleagues.
Also, friends. 20 people that I know I can contact with questions, and 20 new sites to visit.
What questions did it leave me with? Well, why am I doing what I’m doing??? Mostly, SHA left me with questions about how to work within a government framework. It’s limiting! There are a lot of regulations and red tape through which I have to wade. There’s the limitations – declining staff, no budget, no resources…. There’s the increased demand for our school programs. How can I balance the needs we have, those constraints, AND pressure to do more with less? Baby steps! I was lucky to have two mentors at work who also attended SHA. They recognize the value, and have been supportive of changes that are do-able at a site level (without permission from on high). It also left me with a sense of what I wanted to do with my professional life.
What surprised me about SHA? Mostly how quickly it flew by. Three weeks living with someone I didn’t know was daunting for an introvert (there’s a reason some of us go in to collections management – things in storage don’t talk back). I was surprised about just how much *useful* information I received, and how I’m still unpacking it mentally, even 4 months out.
What should prospective applicants know? Three weeks is doable. My friends (who I really think would benefit from, and enjoy the program) are always, without fail, put off by the cost and the time. Yes, the cost is a lot. It’s worth it. There’s also a scholarship – which I was lucky to be awarded. Even if I had to use my hard-earned vacation time, and run up a higher than normal credit card bill, the program is worth it professionally. The amount of information is overwhelming – in a good way.
What ideas or theories are we applying because of the SHA experience? The teamwork sessions really rang a bell. I feel fortunate to be at a site where we all get along. I gave the staff the work personality test (Producer/Entrepreneur/Administrative/Integrator), and it turns out of the 4 of us that do most of the programming, we have one of each! I gave these results to our site manager, who knows he’s got a perfect storm of a staff anyway as a concrete way to measure that. But now we are pretty aware of how each of us works together when we are planning and implementing a site program.
Susie Wilkening’s research was presented at the Small Museum Association Conference in February 2014, and we had actually started to apply some of her ideas about “free choice” to our field trip tours. Seeing her and being able to tell her how well those ideas worked in practice was exciting for both me and her – it shows that these ideas that you pick up or at SHA really can work at your site.
Another idea that we really need to focus on at my site is to do what we do, WELL. Like almost everyone in the field, we have suffered financial cutbacks, find ourselves with dwindling volunteers (whom we have always relied heavily on), and retiring staff (which also places a greater burden not only on the staff who are left, but that dwindling volunteer corps). My former supervisor and I overlapped only for only a week between my return from SHA and her retirement date. I feel like I’m better prepared now to help with the burden of work that was left, but the work I’ve taken on as a result is in addition to my specific position. She was a big cheerleader for me to attend SHA in the first place, herself a graduate of the program in 1996.
What do I continue to think about 4 months later? Honestly it’s a relief to know that we’re not alone in the field! I think about some of the modules we had on programming at your site, and whether or not we are maximizing our gain compared to what we put into it. I also think about how we can keep our site relevant. We DO do a great job with our field trip program, specifically targeted at 3rd grade students learning about simple machines. But what about all of the potential we have to reach other groups, and how do we stay relevant in our local community? All of this of course with dwindling staff and resources. 🙂
I also still think about the experience of actually participating in the “Follow the North Star” program at Conner Prairie. This is a program that touches on a very hot-button topic (slavery), and has been doing it for some time. We are a site that really only interprets “safe” topics – this is a merchant mill, here’s the house where the miller’s family lived, this is our general store…. However, this is a mill in Virginia that was likely built by slaves. The miller’s family lived in that house, and after his death, his wife kept the milling business running even though she had 14 (of 20) children who survived to adulthood. Slavery and women/domestic subjects are some that we could also talk about in the context of our site, but how do we do that?
Kathryn M. Blackwell
Site Collections & Programming
Colvin Run Mill Historic Site
– by Samantha Dodd
Here it is, five months after my experiences at SHA, and I still have the excitement and energy I felt in Indy. Before I arrived in Indianapolis last fall, and quite frankly during some of the first days of the program, I thought that I would have nothing valuable to contribute to the conversations, that I was not ready for such an inundation of information, and honestly that I would not be able to use anything I learned at SHA back home. My doubts and nerves about my own abilities and knowledge were quickly alleviated once I met the outstanding group of individuals with whom I spent an amazing three weeks getting to know and work alongside. The energy this group brought generated great conversations and ideas. We asked the tough questions and delved into the challenges we all face in this field.
About two months after I returned from SHA, the executive director of my organization moved on to another institution and suddenly we were down to three full time staff. Had I not just attended SHA, this situation would have given me a stroke, but instead I rolled up my sleeves and started to unpack all of my notes and ideas I had from Indy and put things into motion. Even though our staff is even smaller now, we are keeping things going, trying new programs, and advocating for our organization and its relevance in our community.
The class of 2014 was an amazing group of people ranging in ages, experience levels, job titles, from all over the country, one even from Canada 🙂 Pretty much every blog post I read before going to SHA all said the same thing, that the number one take away from the program was the network and connections with fellow classmates. After going through the program myself, I can honestly attest to that fact. I still chat with my classmates and we are still posing questions to one another. I know if I start having trouble or if I need some inspiration that I can call up one of my classmates, even one of the speakers and presenters, and talk things out.
To my fellow classmates and to all the speakers, guests, and staff of the Indianapolis Historical Society, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this one in a lifetime experience.
Samantha Dodd, CA
Dallas Historical Society