OMA 2023 Student Scholarship Blog - Maddie James

The Ohio Museums Association is committed to connecting and empowering museum professionals at all stages of their career — including our student and emerging museum professionals!

For our 2023 OMA Annual Conference, OMA was very proud to offer students seeking careers in the museum field, scholarships to attend OMA 2023 in Newark.

Miss our previous post? Learn more about the Scholarship series and read our previous entry here.

We're continuing our 2023 Student Scholarship series with this week's post from Maddie James. Maddie James is currently a student at Ohio University going into her senior year. She is double majoring in history and visual communications - publication design, with a certificate in museum studies. She has previously interned at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, as well as working with the Kennedy Museum of Art through her museum studies program, and as a student employee at Ohio University’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections.

 Chance Encounters

I wasn’t sure what to expect when attending an OMA conference for the first time. I had never been to a conference prior to OMA, and despite anecdotes from my parents on what conferences were like, I didn’t know much beyond the titles of the different panels offered. They sounded intriguing, and me and my classmate who also received a scholarship were comparing ideas as to how the topics might be approached leading up to the conference. We didn’t even know what to expect with the hotel the conference was hosted at, and ended spending a good portion of the evening getting lost trying to find our rooms!

One of the sessions that stuck with me the most was the keynote address. I interned at the National Museum of the American Indian last summer and met many amazing people during my time there. Stacey Halfmoon’s speech reminded me of one of the biggest things I took away from that internship: the role that museums can serve in a community. Museum’s aren’t just a place for storing and displaying objects, they can also be a resource center in a community. The unexpected use of zoom for the address was also a reminder that museums having to move online due to the pandemic wasn’t entirely bad - it has made museums much more accessible, and provided additional resources that never would have been pushed for otherwise.

However what unexpectedly had the most impact on me were encounters and experiences that weren’t in the listed events. Though the tours at The Works and the Dawes Arboretum were listed in the program, I had never heard of them before, and wasn’t sure what our tour would involve. The Arboretum was unlike any museum I’d seen before. I had never considered the idea of a “living” museum with trees as objects, and the way that it was handled on an archival level was fascinating. Even more exciting was a chance encounter with the Arboretum’s archivist. Me and my classmate happened to get separated from the larger tour group and so we were shown around the archive rooms on our own with the archivist. As a college student I’m reaching a point where I have important decisions to make about my career and further education, so hearing the archivist’s experience leading up to her position at the Dawes Arboretum was reassuring. The one thing that’s helped me the most in figuring out what direction I might want to take after college is hearing how other people in the professions I’m interested in arrived at their jobs.

One other chance encounter I had was while we were touring The Works. I was surprised by the exhibit on native cultures from the area, even featuring a Navajo weaving from the Kennedy Art Museum, located in my hometown of Athens. However after heading upstairs I saw a small display box for a pilot I’d never heard of. I skimmed over it briefly and wrote the name of the pilot, Jerrie Mock, down before I started to head to the next exhibit. But I noticed several other people talking to an older woman next to the display. After listening for a second I realized that this was Jerrie’s sister, and as I looked closer at the display, I realized that Jerrie was the first woman to fly around the world. Growing up I’d always wanted to be a pilot, and my interest in Amelia Earhart was one of the topics that first sparked my fascination with history. I was able to talk to Jerrie’s sister for a while, and learned that her story was similar to mine. She’d gone to the same university as me, and also studied history.

I never would have had the opportunity to meet Jerrie Mock’s sister if we hadn’t happened to be touring on that one day, and I’d been in the right part of the museum at the right time. This reminded me of why I love museums. You can go to an exhibit about something you’d assume you know everything about, and still discover something unexpected. Even better, you can go in blindly, not knowing what to expect, and get to experience something new. This type of organic discovery will always be one of my favorite things about museums, and one of the reasons I think they’re important to support and preserve.

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