Author Archives: msundlov

Beyond Networking

Mark Sundlov, Jason Crabill, and Jamie Glavic, SHA 2011. Just three friends doing what friends do!

Mark Sundlov, Jason Crabill, and Jamie Glavic, SHA 2011. Just three friends doing what friends do!

Talking with those who have graduated from Developing History Leaders @ SHA you’re likely to hear endless accolades about two key benefits of the seminar: 1. learning from (and conversing with) top leaders in our field, and 2. building a national network of passionate and brilliant “co-conspirators.” I, for one, will be happy to endlessly bend your ear filling you with information on both of these benefits.

However, one thing I don’t normally chat about is the deep bonds of friendship that are built during the three week immersive program. It turns out that breaking away from the day-to-day and diving head first, alongside equally passionate history leaders, into the key concerns of our field has a life-changing effect. SHA creates opportunities for the meeting and bonding between a small group of people that results in lifelong relationships.

When I refer to my SHA-mates as “friends,” I use that term in the most traditional sense. These friends are the people I call on not only for professional advice but have supported me (and continue to support me) through some of my life’s most difficult and challenging times. The friends I know I can call on when the chips are down.

From the professional aspect, these friends are invaluable for their collective characteristics and their unique identities. They work in multiple organizations, in multiple states, and each is on a very different career track. In other words, we’re not all like-minded. They’ve brought the strength of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds to the difficult professional decisions that they’ve helped me make. Each of these friends has served as a mentor for me and openly shared their wisdom and guidance.

From the personal aspect, I’ve laughed and I’ve cried with most of them. They’ve seen the best of me and they’ve seen the worst of me. I’ve broken bread with them, watched their children grow, and been welcomed into their larger families. True friends.

Rebecca Adams (Sociology Professor, University of North Carolina) cites three conditions that are necessary for establishing close friendships—“proximity, repeated, unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” SHA creates all three of those conditions for its seminarians.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that you attend SHA because you’re looking to make lifelong friends (that’d probably be the wrong reason to attend). But, I would say that you should expect that it is very likely to happen. And, I think you should expect those friendships will enrich both your professional life and your personal life. It’s far beyond networking. And that is a beautiful thing.

Mark Sundlov is Museum Division Director for the State Historical Society of North Dakota

Stepping Back to Step Forward

– by Erik Ingmundson

As I sat down to write this blog post, I glanced through my calendar. Last week included twelve different appointments. They included interviews with applicants for seasonal interpreter positions, program planning sessions for upcoming exhibits, and discussions about developing a new vision for interpretive programming at our entire site, among other things. This week is bringing more of the same. If you’re thinking about applying to SHA, I suspect you can empathize. In all likelihood, your calendar is even busier than mine. As museum professionals, we are conditioned to juggle multiple projects constantly. Our work is often very detail-oriented, and by spending so much time “in the weeds,” it’s easy to lose track of our broader goals and needs. For me, that is why the SHA experience was so important. It afforded me an opportunity to pause, step back, and re-assess my goals.

For me, one of the greatest benefits of attending SHA was the opportunity to broaden my understanding of the museum field beyond my own area of specialization. I have spent nearly ten years in museum and historic site interpretation. I’m fairly conversant in learning theory and visitor studies (though there is always more to learn). For three weeks, I learned about fundraising, strategic planning, institutional change, and nonprofit finance, among many other things. As I think about moving into senior leadership positions in the future, I feel that I am in a much stronger position to ask the right questions.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of SHA is the great network of friends and colleagues that I now have available to me. We regularly exchange messages and ideas. Their perspectives and insights shape my thinking every day. My SHA notebook occupies a prominent place on my desk, and it always will. Make time for this experience. You’ll be glad that you did.

Erik Ingmundson, Supervisor of Interpretation
Mystic Seaport Museum
Class of 2015

Keep in Mind Why You Are Here

– by Dani Stuckle

The above blog title is the phrase that confronted me on a daily basis for three weeks in November, 2015. It was a phrase added to the back of our name tags so while everyone else in the room could be reminded what our name was, the most was made of the blank page facing us. Keep in Mind Why You Are Here. Marianne Sheline, the Program Specialist at the Indiana Historical Society, thought it was a nice idea to try out on our class. It had such an impact on me that I added it to the wall of my cubicle so I can be reminded frequently that I need to reflect.

Mind

The “here” that I’m trying to be mindful of varies. Why am I in my current position? Why am I with this particular organization? Why am I serving on this committee? Why am I only at this stage of the project? This seemingly simple directive has given me countless opportunities to think about my career, my life, and who I want to be when I grow up.

Throughout the time I was in Indianapolis, I was forced to think time and again if we, as a profession, are really doing the best work we could be doing. Are we relevant to our communities? Are we connecting with people over meaningful work? What ideas can we take from other fields to make cultural organizations resonate with our audiences? I thank Marianne, and everyone else involved in making this seminar happen annually, for giving me so many things to continue thinking about.

Danielle “Dani” Stuckle
Educational Programs and Outreach Coordinator
State Historical Society of North Dakota

Grateful

– by Garland Courts

When a co-worker of mine mentions applying for Seminar in Historical Administration or another’s reminiscence of when they attended SHA; a flood of positive, happy memories return to my mind of my three weeks spent immersed in museum theory and lore facilitated by some of the finest museum professionals around. The opportunity to speak to these professionals one on one after their presentations was invaluable when asking “real” questions about museum life. “How do you deal with a difficult Board of Directors?”, “What do you value when hiring museum professionals?” or “You’re the head of a major museum, how did you get your start?” These types of conversations held over lunch or during our free time, get away from museum theory and delve into questions many of us have but never have a setting in which to ask them. I have spoken to a couple of these museum leaders long after attending SHA, I usually start with “I met you at SHA when you were presenting…”, all of them have been more than accommodating in our interaction.

On my bookshelf in my office sits my SHA binder, an overstuffed raggedy collection of papers and notes I gathered while attending the seminar ten years ago. Now, as a seasoned museum veteran, I don’t refer to that binder as much as I once did. Most of that binder is now ingrained in my mind, but I still value the connections I made through SHA and the education I received learning from real professionals that took time out of their busy schedules to be a part of the SHA faculty. Connections and interactions have a life lasting well beyond their actual occurrence, and this is the legacy that my participation with SHA has left me with, I am grateful.

Garland Courts, Director of Education
Las Cruces Museum System
Class of 2006

Dreams and Collaborations…

– by Laura Minzes

Levi_Coffin_House,_front_and_southern_sideHow do you make dreams a reality? Luck, patience, time, money and collaborations…lots and lots of collaborations. The Levi Coffin State Historic Site is a small, unassuming Federal Style house in the small town of Fountain City, Indiana (pop. 700) about 6 miles north of Richmond, very near the Indiana/Ohio border.

Run by an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers, the Levi Coffin House Association, since it was opened to the public in 1972, the house was built by abolitionists, Levi and Catharine Coffin in 1839. During the Coffin’s 20 year residence in what was then called Newport, according to Levi in his autobiographical book Reminiscences, the Coffins assisted more than 2,000 freedom seekers in their travels north to Canada fleeing slavery.

This Underground Railroad stop, while wonderfully built and constructed for the purposes of housing freedom seekers, does not currently provide common visitor amenities nor is there space to appropriately tell the stories of those who sought freedom. For nearly twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of being part of a team working to build the Levi Coffin Interpretive Center.

Bit by bit, trial by trial and dollar by dollar, this project has become a reality and will open in December, 2016, as part of Indiana’s Bicentennial celebrations. Already, it has been named by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the top 10 museums to visit in 2016.

Of course, there are many, many, many people, organizations and grants supporters that helped contribute to the project but the ones closest to my heart are those that have helped through our Developing History Leaders at SHA (DHL@SHA) connections.

Collaborating with members from the Classes of 2006, 2007 (Look for their stone in the Freedom Walk at the site!), 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014 among others is just one of the many aspects of this project that is so incredibly special. Working with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati (where Levi and Catharine moved to open a free labor goods warehouse and continue their UGRR activities) is another that has been particularly rewarding.

Often times, when thinking that this project wouldn’t happen, we would look at each other and say ”There is just something special about this place and project – let’s give it a couple of months and re-evaluate.” Inevitably, an event would occur, another grant would come through, or other components would come together and we’d keep going…I have to thank those SHA alumni for their support, patience and guidance.

Would this project have happened without the SHA connection? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun!

Laura J. Minzes
Associate Vice President of Historic Sites
Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

Rear view Interior from Parking lot entranceSouth street view Across 27 2

The Challenges and Opportunities of Institutional Outreach (Part II)

– by Stacia Kuceyeski

In the SHA Wednesday Workshop at the AASLH annual meeting in Louisville, the 20 participants discussed the role of outreach in historical organizations. In separate blog posts Tim Hoogland of the Minnesota Historical Society (SHA Class of ’08) and Stacia Kuceyeski of the Ohio History Connection (SHA Class of ’12) will share insights from their presentations.

In Tim’s presentation (and in his blog post) he focused on some of the nuts and bolts of outreach in museums: what it means, what it includes, how to do it, etc. He then was able to connect these larger themes to how it looks in practice using outreach to the K-12 community as an example. I then took over with a closer look at community engagement as a subset of outreach.

Google “community engagement” and look at what Google Image brings up: lots of brightly colored thought bubbles, raised hands, and people with different skin tones shaking hands. This snapshot is a glossy, feel-good version of community engagement. However, like most things that are worthwhile it’s not easy. I’ve been yelled at and taken to task by communities for what my organization (or museums in general) have done, I’ve logged miles upon miles in our motor pool cars, and I’ve gotten frustrated at the entire process. My idealism was finally crushed in my late 20s during one project that worked to engage both a K-12 community and a geographic community. While I look back on my poor, shattered idealism I see how that made me a better museum professional (that’s a different blog post), but it also turned me off to community work for a few years. That was until I finally grasped the main point of engaging communities which is it’s not about me or my organization, it’s about the community.

Now that might seem obvious but take a program at your organization that’s outcome is community engagement. If you look with a critical eye is that really the outcome? Or is the outcome to bring more people to your museum? Are you trying to make yourself more attractive to a funder? Are you checking a box? Chances are it’s not quite as altruistic as you think.

I shared all sorts of interesting information, and some of my best PG-13 rated analogies about community engagement, but in reflecting on the workshop, the discussion, and the comments from the evaluations, I’d have to say that the overarching point I’d like to make is that community engagement is about a community, however that is defined (again, another blog post), not about the cultural institution. I know people disagree with me, but we need “the community” more than they need us, so what are we doing to actively listen to our communities and not just go to them for a seal of approval once we’ve already “figured it all out?”

I LOVE the blog Nonprofit with Balls by Vu Le for any and all discussions about how we are messing all this up. One of my favorite posts is “Are you or your nonprofit or foundation being an askhole?” Chances are you are getting it right a lot of the time, but you are also making some missteps; I know I am, but that’s all part of the process. Once we start thinking we’ve got it all figured out as museum professionals is when it’s time to find another career.

Stacia Kuceyeski
Director, Outreach
Ohio History Connection

The Challenges and Opportunities of Institutional Outreach (Part I)

 

– by Tim Hoogland

 

In the SHA Wednesday Workshop at the AASLH annual meeting in Louisville, the 20 participants discussed the role of outreach in historical organizations. In separate blog posts Tim Hoogland of the Minnesota Historical Society (SHA Class of ’08) and Stacia Kuceyeski of the Ohio History Connection (SHA Class of ’12) will share insights from their presentations.

Understanding Outreach and Engaging Educational Audiences

In preparing for the 2015 Wednesday Workshop, I reflected on the often used adage, “The best defense is a good offense.” As historical organizations wrestle with the challenges of maintaining (or growing) visitation, building new audiences, generating revenue, and meeting their missions, there are an increasing number of positions housed under the umbrella of “Outreach.” One rationale for this trend would hold that outreach staff would be freed of the confines of a museum or historic site and be able to build layers of audience engagement that do not depend on visitors and tickets. Simply put, outreach staff put institutions “on the offense” in ways that will ultimately support — and defend — the core functions of museums, collections and interpretive programs.

Many of the participants in the workshop shared that their institutions had not engaged in discussions about the definition of outreach or its place in their strategic plans. Thus, the first exercise of the workshop was for everyone to craft a definition. Although my definition continually evolves, here is the current version:

“The coordinated delivery of a program, product, or service to an audience that is not dependent on access to regularly scheduled resources at a museum, archive and/or historic site.”

Although the definitions shared by the rest of the group varied greatly, they used similar vocabulary: Engagement; Service; Connection, Relationship, Inclusion — were all common themes.

In the discussion that followed, it became clear that the core value of outreach was in the creation of relationships as opposed to the focus on transactions that are core visitor metrics. Even with some definition, the boundaries of outreach can be hard to pin down. What’s in, and what’s out? The web? Field services? Public programs on site? Traveling exhibits? Publications?

Whatever the definition or the boundaries you put on it, OUTREACH has become a critical component of the programs of historical organizations as they confront the changing realities of serving their audiences.

Outreach can create opportunities to engage with traditional audiences who have aged out, or opted out, of visitation to museums and historic sites. In turn, outreach can build relationships with emerging audiences and create pathways to deeper connections with your organization.

In my own work with K-12 and higher education here are some of the lessons I have learned:

Outreach efforts must align with mission

Like any endeavor of your organization, outreach has to align with mission. But this may require high level discussions to build common understanding of this alignment and how outreach efforts complement existing programs. The mission of the Minnesota Historical Society has evolved from the idea of “connecting people to history to help them gain perspective on their lives” to the current mission of “Using the power of history to transform lives.” Both of these statements embrace outreach beyond our institutional walls — especially with educational programs.

Develop programs in strategic increments

Building outreach capacity needs to be done in steps. Sustainability will be enhanced with pilot programs that can be grown to scale based on evaluation outcomes, solid funding strategies, and incorporation into the strategic plan.

Evaluate and document

Because outreach programs often take place outside of the “home base” of your organization, it is critical to develop effective evaluation plans and to document your programs with photography, video, and participant testimonials. You need to find compelling means to share the impact, and the “look and feel” of this work with internal and external stakeholders.

Connect outreach programs to a larger social purpose and embrace partnerships

In addition to connecting with mission, outreach programs provide the opportunity for your organization to connect itself to larger challenges in the community, state, and/or nation. Working with partners is critical to this effort as they provide access to key audiences and amplify the impact of your efforts.

“Connect the dots” back to internal partners

Be ready to connect relationships created through outreach programs to other resources within your organization. For example, K-12 outreach programs create the opportunity to build pathways for student and family visitation to the home museum or historic site. Given the challenges of building visitation through traditional channels and social media, investing in outreach relationships can be a cost effective strategy for audience development.

Outreach should have catalytic effects

Building pathways to visitation is a basic example of the catalytic effects of outreach, but the layers of impact grow with sustained efforts. In Minnesota, the National History Day program illustrates how outreach efforts create “ripples” throughout our institution:

  • History Day participation has grown from 125 students to 25,000 students, and is the primary connection for MNHS to support classroom history instruction across all regions of the state.
  • History Day helped MNHS re-engage with the University of Minnesota and this partnership is building toward the collaborative development of a graduate program in Heritage Studies and Public History.
  • The base of 25,000 participants created over 90,000 points of service to students, parents, teachers and volunteers. This places History Day as the “fourth most visited” entity at MNHS — just behind the state capitol.
  • History Day engagement led to the successful recruitment of two members of the MNHS governing board…including the past president of the University of Minnesota.
  • History Day alumni consistently find staff positions, and service to urban schools helped build the foundation of our Department of Inclusion and Community Engagement.
  • The success of History Day allowed MNHS staff to write state education standards for historical inquiry.

And the list goes on…

Historical organizations can be an important catalyst for change on many fronts. Understanding how outreach plays a role in fully realizing the potential of these organizations to add value to their communities — especially in K-12 education — is a challenge worth taking.

Tim Hoogland
Director of Education Outreach Programs
Minnesota Historical Society

Affiliated Instructor of History
University of Minnesota

Welcome to the Director’s Office

– 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.

Jamie Glavic
Director of Marketing and Communications
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

When is the “Right Time” to Apply?

– 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.

Tim Hoogland
Director of Education Outreach Programs
Minnesota Historical Society

Affiliated Instructor of History
University of Minnesota

Q&A

– 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
Historian I
Site Collections & Programming
Colvin Run Mill Historic Site

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