Guest gives talk about museum education job


On Nov. 16, Courtney Speckmann spoke to a small group of students and faculty about what it means to be a museum educator. Speckmann provided information about her career for students who might be considering a career in museum education as part of the Museum Studies Speaker Series.

Speckmann graduated Susquehanna in 2005 from the history and secondary education programs. When nearing the end of her time at Susquehanna, she said, she wasn’t sure she wanted to teach in a classroom. She continued to teach students just in case, she said. After graduation, Speckmann moved to Sarasota, Florida where she worked at the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum. According to Speckmann, while she was working at the museum she realized that she loved working in museums and decided to take up museum education in graduate school at George Washington.

Now Speckmann works at the White House Historical Association, which she spoke about extensively. According to Speckmann, the White House Historical Association was founded 1961 with the help of Jackie Kennedy as a non-profit. Kennedy wanted to recognize the history of the White House and began by recollecting original pieces from the first presidents in the White House, asking the public to return things they had purchased from past administrations.

According to Speckmann, the White House Historical Association organizes many educational programs for students and teachers. When students come to visit, the White House Historical Association has them put on a play called “First Kid For A Day.” In these plays, the children were told a story about a “first kid” and they dress up and act it out.

They have also begun a project in which they have the kids act out the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Speckmann said. The David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History, the White House Historical Association’s institute for White House research and education, has one of the most preserved slave quarters in the White House neighborhood.

“We wanted to connect the history of the slave quarters to the White House,” Speckmann said. “The audience was asked to participate in a piece of this specific skit, the Cabinet Scene. My part was Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. In this scene, President Lincoln calls together his Cabinet to say that he has decided to make all slaves free people. It was interesting to get to be a part of this history.”

Speckmann spoke about what it means to be a museum educator. As a museum educator, Speckmann said, her job is to “meet the needs and interests of the public in museums and other informal learning environments.” You need to know your audience well when developing programs, she said. The same program for six-year-olds will not work for someone who is 16.

Museum educators are taught the three C’s: comfort, confidence and choice, Speckmann said. A person needs to be in a safe environment where they can feel empowered to make informed choices. Museum education gives you the knowledge you need to work in any museum. “It doesn’t funnel you to a specific type of museum,” Speckmann said.

There are many different sources that Speckmann suggested for those who are interested in museum education. Social media is one of them. She suggests following different museums on different social media. Although museum education is not offered at Susquehanna, she said that getting experience and talking to professionals is good when considering this field of study. “Just talking, coming to sessions like this,” Speckmann said.