Hanna Gaston, recent graduate of the M.A. in Museum Professions program.
Hannah Gaston, M.A. '19, a recent graduate of the Museum Professions program, one of three graduate programs offered within the College of Communication and the Arts, was recently promoted to Education Programs Coordinator at the Liberty Hall Museum and Academic Center at Kean University. Gaston was hired as an intern for the museum in October 2017, became the first recipient of the May Kean Raynolds Museum Studies Graduate Fellowship in 2018, then hired as a part-time associate, and most recently granted a full-time position as Education Programs Coordinator in August 2019. Her success is the goal for many students working towards their graduate degree, and she attributes this success to building strong relationships in the workplace and actively discussing her intentions.
Hannah Gaston began her education with the University in August 2017 as a M.A. in Museum Professions candidate who was unsure of her professional goals. After completing classes in education and registration, she found her passion and declared a track in Museum Education. In one of her graduate classes, a guest speaker advised students to complete multiple internships to gain experience in the field and build important relationships. Gaston took this advice to heart and over the next two years completed internships with the Liberty Hall Museum in Union, New Jersey, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. When she began her internship at Liberty Hall, she admits she was only looking to gain experience and learn more about the field. After spending a year there, she fell in love with the museum and started considering a career there.
"When I began at Liberty Hall Museum, it was an incredibly supportive and friendly environment," said Gaston. "It was one of the most fun museum environments I had ever worked in. That was the impetus to stay. As my position changed from intern, to fellow, to part-time employee to full-time employee, the offer of employment served as my primary motivation to stay. We work in a tough and competitive field. The average search time for recent graduates is 2 years,"
Gaston continued, "I considered myself unbelievably lucky that I had an offer. The work environment was conducive to my needs and interests. I had an incredibly supportive group of colleagues at Liberty Hall who were willing and ready to help me learn the ropes of this new position. Graduate school can only teach you so much. I knew I needed to be in a place where I could learn and grow in a supportive environment for my first job. Liberty Hall was the perfect place to do that."
Gaston expressed interest in staying with the institution and applying her graduate learnings in museum education there. In August 2019, Hannah was promoted to Education Programs Coordinator, replacing her previous supervisor who transitioned into another role. "Most companies want to promote internally from interns or part-time/full-time employees," she explained. "These are people who have shown interest in the company and already understand the role."
Hannah attributes her promotion to building relationships with her supervisor and colleagues as well as openly expressing interest to stay on with the institution. "Be willing to talk with the people around you," she advised current students. "I've worked with interns before who only talk to their supervisors and colleagues on an as need basis. I was very open with my supervisor, asking for advice and putting myself out there. Being proactive about things like that was really beneficial because it showed them that I was willing to take on my role as well as additional learnings and responsibilities."
As an Education Programs Coordinator, Hannah assumes numerous responsibilities. She works closely with education consultants, manages and trains education staffing, analyzes data and revenue, and works with other small historic house museums at round table discussions to determine successful and unsuccessful education tactics. Since Liberty Hall is a smaller institution, Gaston also helps with day-to-day responsibilities such as organizing special events and programming.
Hannah advises students to apply for internships whenever possible. "Take every opportunity you can get. Even seemingly small opportunities can turn into something much bigger," she said. "Do as many internships as possible, but recognize the opportunities that will lead to greater things and pursue them." Gaston left Liberty Hall briefly during the summer between her two years of grad school to do another internship, but she could see that that internship was not going to turn into a job. "Liberty Hall was where I saw the potential for real growth, so I pursued that opportunity and here I am now. It truly is a balance between finding opportunities and recognizing the opportunities that will lead you to your goals."
The M.A. in Museum Professions is designed for individuals interested in pursuing careers in museums or related cultural institutions. Students in the program select one of four professional tracks, including Education, Registration, Management and Exhibition Development.
The College currently offers three graduate-level programs, including Museum Professions, Communication, and Public Relations. In addition, four dual-degree options, including three accelerated B.A./M.A. programs and a dual M.A. degree with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations are offered.