By Crystal Mason
This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attend the 2014 Annual Meeting
My interest in education always stemmed from my desire for knowledge and the amazing ability to share it with others. I began my career in education at a public high school and I can honestly state that at that time I was unaware that museum education was even a possible career path. I have now been a Museum Educator at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum for four years and it has been an amazing experience. I love being able to work in a field where I am not only allowed to share a wealth of knowledge but also gain a great deal on a regular basis because of my environment. While I love museum education and think it is invaluable, it seems to be a fairly new field within museums when compared to registrars and curators. Being a newer field means great room for growth but also limitations as to the resources available. Working at a very small museum (only three staff!) in a fairly remote area also makes it difficult to find partners to share ideas with, especially face-to-face. This is why the Western Museum Association (WMA) 2014 Annual Meeting is so valuable to me as a Museum Educator—it gives me the access to knowledge that would be unattainable under normal circumstances. If the saying “knowledge is power” is true, then the WMA Annual Meeting is a powerhouse.
The 2014 Annual Meeting provided multiple opportunities for networking with everything from a Networking 101 session to delightful coffee breaks. I made sure that I attended every networking opportunity possible because I was craving interaction with peers that knew my field. One of the observations I made immediately was the number of educated intellectuals I was surrounded by during these networking opportunities. I know from my Master’s graduation speech that only seven percent of the US population has earned Master’s degrees and I felt like a huge chunk of that seven percent surrounded me at the conference. In trying out my networking skills attained from Networking 101 I met a group of three lovely ladies, Allyson, Sophie, and Amy. We all began discussing graduate school and our theses. When I began talking about my topic of institutional discrimination these ladies knew exactly what I was talking about and asked excellent questions regarding my study. I am not going to lie, my heart lit up like the Christmas tree in Times Square. It was so refreshing to be able to discuss passions that connect to our work with others that are truly interested and understand our ideas. For me, networking at the 2014 Annual Meeting was not just beneficial for my professional development but for my personal development. It reignited my passion and reminded me that despite my location, I am not alone; there are people like me spread all over the west.
While networking brings me a lot of personal joy because of the connections I feel, it also definitely serves a professional purpose as well. At the 2014 Annual Meeting I was able to connect with a wide variety of educators that wear a variety of hats within the field of Museum Education. I gained a vast amount of knowledge about the different roles educators play within their institutions and this definitely made me think of what sector of museum education I want to be involved with as the field grows. Without the 2014 Annual Meeting, I don’t think I would have even considered this until I was actually faced with a decision. It was also great to be able to hear about all of the work that different educators are completing at their museums. Simply being able to have an open discussion about our work got my gears turning about what else I can be doing as a Museum Educator.
In addition gaining new ideas and knowledge about museum education, networking also gave me an opportunity to understand more about certain areas of the museum field that I may not know much about. It is fabulous to be able to talk to such a wide variety of people with unique specializations while knowing that we are all connected by our love for museums. I was able to learn more about exhibit design, curation, mount making, and marketing all from simply carrying on conversations with extremely interesting individuals. I can honestly say that I would never have an opportunity to learn so much about our field without attending the WMA Annual Meeting.
While networking revealed the powerhouse of knowledge the participants brought to the conference, the sessions also demonstrated how much knowledge was also shared. For me personally, the best session I attended was LACMA’s Art & Film Initiative: Fostering Visual and Media Literacy in K-12 Schools with Veronica Alvarez and Brick Maier. This session really focused on museum education and provided an excellent example of initiatives museums can start that really connect the organization to classrooms. I find it incredibly important to connect the community to our organization and this session really explained how to get teachers involved with the museum which will then lead to students being connected to the museum. Also, with my background in public education, I understood how well this film initiative worked and I could even see how it could support the new Common Core policy. What I loved most about this session, though, was how many new ideas it spurred in my head. It was really a springboard for looking at the visual arts as a way to connect museums and schools. One of the items I came to the 2014 Annual Meeting in search of was ideas, and this session definitely fulfilled that goal.
As a Museum Educator at a small museum I wear many hats, so I am always looking to learn new information that may help me with any of the roles I play. This is another reason I loved the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting, because it provided information on such a wealth of topics and there were no constraints on what you wish to learn about. A session that I also deeply enjoyed that was not necessarily related to Museum Education was Connecting with Audiences through Personal Mobile Devices. In this day and age, mobile devices are a prevalent part of life for most people. This session really pinpointed ways to engage our audiences—whether it is by placemarkers or text adventures—by connecting to mobile devices that have become integral in people’s lives. I really loved participating directly in this session and seeing exactly how mobile device engagement works. I learned a great deal that can be used to improve visitor services, which I find important even if it doesn’t relate to my title. However, I was able relate this session to my position and I think that mobile device engagement is the best way for our museum to connect to high school age children and provide education.
Overall the 2014 Annual Meeting was integral in reigniting my passion while expanding my mind at the same time. Small museums often mean small budgets and without the help of the Wanda Chin Scholarship I would not have been able to gain all of the invaluable information and networking opportunities I had at this wonderful conference.
Crystal Mason is a passionate museum educator, previously working at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum for four years. Recently, she completed her Master's in Education from the University of Redlands, and she is looking forward to utilizing her new knowledge in the museum field.