Westminster College offers new museum studies minor

Staff members say a new minor program at Westminster College offers students a glimpse at a career they may not have considered before.

According to Mandy Plybon, education and public programs coordinator for the National Churchill Museum, while the museum studies minor is offered through the history department, it could be applicable to a broad range of study areas.

“My personal goal is to make students realize they don’t have to be a history major to work in a museum,” said Plybon, who teaches the museum-specific courses that are part of the program. “We tied it into the history department because it was a natural fit for the museum, but you can be a biology major and go on to work in a science museum.”

History Department Chair Sam Goodfellow, who oversees the minor program also said the diverse applications of museum studies make it a valuable addition to the school’s course options.

“It’s an interesting career that pulls together business, whatever interest you have — in the case of the museum, history — fundraising, archival work,” Goodfellow said. “It’s just a good way to pursue a professional option students might not have thought about before, but might find fulfilling.”

He also noted that “museum work is, surprisingly, a growing occupation,” as a primary motivation for finally establishing the museum studies minor after “thinking about doing this for a long time.”

“It’s a growing field,” Goodfellow repeated, noting that growth is due in large part to it becoming more and more of a tourism industry. “There are more museums, and more people are going to museums.”

Plybon said students who have taken the museum studies courses thus far include history, education, physical education, business and international relations majors.

“I actually enjoy a variety of backgrounds, because you get a better discussion that way,” she said.

The new minor consists of four required courses for 12 credits, including Introduction to Museum Studies, Museums and Society, Museum Internship and either Museums and Education: Places of Learning or Museums and Collections. Students also must complete two elective courses for six credits from three categories — objects, collections and preservation, institutions and administration and society and education — with options ranging from non-profit accounting and geology courses to marketing and child growth and development.

“We tried to give students a wide variety of options,” Plybon said.

Sixteen students took the museum studies classes this year, with one going on to be accepted to a graduate program in museum studies in St. Louis.

With that kind of participation and interest expressed in the program next year, Goodfellow said the first year of the program “is exceeding all expectations.”

Plybon said she also is pleased with how the program has been received.

“We’re starting to get some interest. From a museum standpoint, I feel like it’s going well,” she said.

Plybon said one of her goals in helping create the museum studies minor was to help strengthen the connection between the museum and the school — a strategy that appears to be working thus far.

“We actually had a lot more students in the museum this year,” she said.

The other goal was to provide students with another option as they consider what kind of career they want to pursue after graduation.

“We want to be at the forefront of museum education and provide local students opportunities to get a specialized minor that isn’t really offered in many colleges in Missouri,” Plybon said.

Katherine Cummins can be reached at (573) 826-2418 or katherine@fultonsun.com.

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