Skip to content

A Tribute to My GA Staff

April 27, 2016
group

(l-r) Colleen McCartney, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, Nur Abdalla, and Brooke Garcia in the Fall of 2014

From 2007 – 2016, during my tenure as Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I regularly chose four University of Memphis graduate students to serve up to two years each as Graduate Assistants at the Museum. They work 20 hours per week during the academic year in exchange for a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. Although the economic incentive is important, what they receive in education and experience at the Museum far exceeds the monetary compensation. When I welcome visitors to the Museum, I always note that whatever exhibit or program they encounter during their visit that is ‘shiny and new’ chances are it was completed by one of our Graduate Assistants, Volunteers, or Interns.

Nur-missing

Same folks today, less Nur who is determining if she has the measles or not, with R. Connolly. The last official day at the Museum for the GA staff.

In the Spring Semester of 2014, all four of our GA staff graduated. That meant that in the Fall Semester of 2014, four new Graduate Assistants came on board at the same time. That had never happened in my previous 7 years at the Museum. Perhaps starting at the same time is why they bonded so well as a team. Regardless the 2014 – 2016 Graduate Assistants were truly exceptional in all ways. Over the past two years I often reflected that I could not have asked for a better GA staff on which to end my career at Chucalissa as I retire later this summer.

So, what follows is my story of the stories of Nur Abdalla, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, Brooke Garcia, and Colleen McCartney and their time as Graduate Assistants at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. And it is a true story, for the most part.

Ashes and INur Abdalla – I first met Nur in about 2012 when she was an undergraduate in the Anthropology Department. She registered for an Internship and completed a Directed Research Project at Chucalissa. For her Applied Archaeology and Museums class project, she created an exhibit that explored the interpretive significance of surface collections from artifacts curated at Chucalissa.

As a graduate student, her research focused on working with students and staff from the Freedom Prep Charter School to develop an institutional relationship with the C.H. Nash Museum. For her GA projects she organized special events at the museum and worked on several collections projects.

First and foremost Nur always has a smile and a pro-active solution driven approach to every situation. I was also amazed that our auto-generated Netflix recommendations were quite similar.

eliI first met Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza in July of 2013 at the bus station in Caraz, Peru. We had previously corresponded about the possibility of her coming to the US to study for her Masters Degree in Archaeology at the University of Memphis. Since that first meeting we have worked together on a series of projects in Peru and I look forward to continuing that collaboration. Eli will enter the PhD program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in the fall of 2016 with full funding. This summer she will launch a community based research project on the Peruvian North Coast in the village of Nivín.

While at Chucalissa Eli translated a good bit of our exhibit and visitor materials into Spanish and played a major role in the upgrade of the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab. Prior to her first day at the Museum I was somewhat concerned about how well she would engage with our visitors in explaining an archaeological site of which she was not familiar in a language that was not her own. Eli excelled with both our Spanish-speaking and English-speaking visitors.   She was also quite adept at answering visitors questions, that yes, she was in fact a Native American, and then explain her Peruvian origins. Through Eli, I have come to have a second home in Peru and look forward to our continued collaboration.

brookeBrooke Garcia, an Egyptology student, began as a collections intern in the summer of 2014 and transitioned seamlessly into her GA role that fall. Under the able direction of Ron Brister, Brooke completed several of the collections projects that staff had worked on for several years at Chucalissa. These projects included the deaccessioning and transfer of collections that were not part of our museums research scope to other Midsouth institutions. Brooke also completed NAGPRA compliance on all University of Memphis collections excavated over the past 50 years. Brooke was very active in our volunteer program, training visitors to process artifacts on our Volunteer Saturdays, including many students from Freedom Prep Charter School.

Brooke excelled in her academic achievements while a GA. She was awarded a MUSE Fellowship in the summer of 2015 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2015 she also received a Fellowship to attend the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting.

Like the rest of our GA staff, Brooke shares an affinity to all that is Disney and in addition, ballroom dancing.

colleenColleen McCartney was the token Anglo GA for the past two years. From Canada via Texas, Colleen is a natural born leader and played that role very well in several projects while working at the Museum. In addition to completing the organization of our strategic plan, Colleen coordinated the upgrade of the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab. For her studies in the Anthropology Department and Museum Studies she crafted a curriculum to include a solid exposure to public and nonprofit administration. For her practicum in the Anthropology Department Colleen created programs and policies for the inclusion of special needs visitors at Chucalissa.

Colleen appears to have been the ringleader of the GA staff over the past two years, fomenting dissent as appropriate, but always assuring that the job was done. Her skills in this area were recognized by her peers when she received the first ever Emerging Museum Professional of the Year Award from the Tennessee Association of Museums. Quite an accomplishment for someone from Texas!

And in the end . . . the consistent pleasure that I had during my nine years at the University of Memphis and the C.H. Nash Museum was my work with students – particularly the Graduate Assistants. I always pushed the GA staff toward taking risks and believing that they could and should make applied contributions now and not wait until they graduate. Certainly, all of their resumes are greatly enhanced by their time working at the C.H. Nash Museum. I know that they will remain in contact with each other as they graduate and go their separate ways.

All of the GA staff have been very generous in their compliments toward me and my role as their Supervisor and Museum Director. My standard response to them has always been to remember that 10 or 20 years from now when they are in my position, mentoring a young 20 something who is trying to find their way in the world and trying to exude a sense of self-confidence while being insecure and nervous about screwing up and somehow getting it wrong – to remember what it felt like to be in their shoes and treat them kindness and support.

In many ways, I learned all that I needed from my first mentor the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis who in a 1986 field school said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why their tax dollars should go to support this field work and museum, you might as well go home.” I keep those words as guiding principles in what I strive to do professionally. I have enjoyed engaging with the public ever since. While working as the Poverty Point Station Archaeologist in Northeast Louisiana, I began to understand what Pat meant. At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, through both our visitors and our Graduate Assistants, I had the opportunity to continue that engagement. The last two years of my career with both our regular and GA staff have been a true delight. I would not change a thing.

A Hands-On Archaeological Experience For All

April 25, 2016

Colleen McCartney, a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, wrote this week’s post.  For the past two years one of Colleen’s principal responsibilities at the Museum has been the upgrade of the Hands-on Archaeology Lab.  When I became the Director of Chucalissa in 2007, I wanted to develop a hands-on experience for visitors to explore archaeology.  Over the past 9 years some 20 or so students and volunteers have contributed to various aspects of the project that first opened in 2008.  As I wrote about last week, the most recent iteration of the lab officially premiered on April 16.  Below, Colleen describes the upgraded facility.

 

The BADLab at the C.H. Nash Museum

by Colleen McCartney

2007lab1

2007 Lab Space

handson1

2008 Initial Hands on Archaeology Lab Project

The hands-on archaeology lab at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa began its first iteration in 2008. In that initial project, under the direction of Museum Director, Robert Connolly, after clearing out a room used at the time for storage, the space was transformed by graduate assistants, led by Jennifer Graham to create a hands-on learning experience. The room had several stations filled with deaccessioned educational artifacts that visitors could handle and observe. However, after a few years the room needed an update to incorporate lessons learned from the initial project. As a result, the current lab renovation began in fall of 2014.

I signed on as the project coordinator when the most recent renovation process began. In the first few months we gutted the room, which included ripping out cabinets, replacing the floor, painting the walls, and moving file and map cabinets to the repository. Designing the layout of the room was completed during the clearing out stages.

My fellow graduate assistant Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I planned out several features for the new lab. With the guidance of our Collections Manager Ron Brister and Robert Connolly, our ‘Big Idea’ or theme was From the Field to the Museum. We wanted visitors to understand and experience the process of excavating artifacts to storing and exhibiting the materials in a museum.

Over the last two years we have worked to create the current manifestation of the hands-on lab. The influence of Ron Brister has been instrumental in developing not only the lab, but several other projects at the C.H. Nash Museum. As a result, we have officially renamed the exhibit, the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab, or as we lovingly call it, the BADLab.

When you enter the BADLab you begin with our stratigraphy wall to the right. The wall features sediment panels from the excavation trench at Chucalissa. There are also text panels and high-definition photographs of the trench by Katie Maish. To learn more about this feature, see Robert Connolly’s post from last week.

DSC_0660[17]

Sifting and Sorting Table

As you continue through the lab you reach the sifting and sorting tables. These tables demonstrate the process that archaeologists use to gather and analyze artifacts after excavation. By sifting through buckets of sand with artifacts visitors get a hands-on experience of an archaeological process. Then the visitors take the artifacts they sift and move to the sorting table where they analyze their artifacts at the lab station.  This activity includes completing analysis forms that each visitor takes home. These stations also include banners that describe why archaeology is important, the methods archaeologists use, different pottery types, a timeline of Chucalissa and other information.

DSC_0656[5]

Type collection created by MAGS members.

Continuing through the lab visitors come to a weapons wall that has hands-on replicas of prehistoric Native American weapons. This display is next to cases containing type collections created by the Memphis Archeological and Geological Society (MAGS).  The collections include prehistoric ceramic and stone tool types along with historic bottles that can be examined by visitors. Above the cases is a didactic panel that describes the process of cataloging collections in a museum repository. It is significant that the type collection was created by MAGS.  The avocational organization was initially founded in the 1950s around archaeological interest in the Chucalissa site. MAGS continues to be active at Chucalissa in not only volunteer work but also in financial support. For example the type collection cabinets were purchased with a very generous $2000.00 MAGS contribution.

DSC_0652[9]

BADLab Food exhibit

Next to the MAGS collection cases is an exhibit focused on cooking and food of the prehistoric people of Chucalissa. Developed by Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, this exhibit features tools and vessels used to hunt, gather and cook the food of prehistoric Native Americans along with examples of the various food types.  Intern Jessica Johnson painted a prehistoric house mural as a backdrop for the exhibit.

The fourth lab wall features a sensory bookcase. Each section of the bookcase features specific types of furs, feathers, shells, dolls and tools. This bookcase is very popular with children and offers teaching opportunities for all ages. This final lab section also contains a work desk for the graduate assistants and information binders on everything from ceramic and lithic analysis, archaeological processes and more for the visitors to gain detail about archaeological collections and processes.

A highlight of the BADLab is “pull out” exhibits designed for quick set-up on a rotating basis or for special group interest. These more portable exhibits cover topics such as ceramic analysis, trade and exchange, and lithic analysis. Created by two of our interns this past semester, Emily Woolsey and Gabriel Short, the exhibits provide a more detailed discussion of a specific topic. For example, with the lithic pull out exhibit, visitors are able to handle artifacts containing sickle sheen, trace of use wear, as well as different tool and raw material types.

DSC_0624

Colleen McCartney at trench house floor exhibit

The Brister Archeology Lab is a unique opportunity for visitors to have a hands-on experience of archaeological processes in a museum environment. By going through the lab visitors get an appreciation of the process of an artifact moving from the field to the museum, deepening their understanding of archaeology and museums. We attempt to use authentic artifacts as much as possible drawing from our deaccessioned educational collections.  When you are in Memphis, stop by and visit our new exhibit!

Colleen McCartney can be reached via email at: cmccrtny(at)memphis.edu

A Truly Low-Tech and Innovative Archaeological Exhibit

April 18, 2016
wall

Excavation Trench representation in the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab

On April 16, for our Spring Family Fun Day at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we unveiled our new Brister Archaeology Discovery Laboratory (BADLab), an upgraded version of our 2008 innovation, the Hands-On Archaeology Lab.  The upgraded configuration honors the lifelong contribution of Ron Brister to the Chucalissa Archaeological site.  Ron was first employed in 1966 at Chucalissa by Charles Nash, for whom the current museum is named.  After a 37-year career as the Collections Manager at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, in his retirement, Ron is once again back at Chucalissa lending his considerable expertise to a wide range of our museum practices.

whole

Photograph of Excavation Trench profile by Katie Maish

One of the innovations in our upgraded BADLab is the representation of the Chucalissa House Mound Excavation Trench on one of the rooms walls.

In the late 1950s archaeologists excavated a trench through a prehistoric ridge or mound at the Chucalissa site. When built nearly 1,000 years ago, the long ridge or mound was a place where the Native Americans built a variety of structures, including houses. Beginning in 1962, the archaeological excavation through the house ridge served as an entrance into the Chucalissa mounds and plaza. However, the trench is now closed to the public because of erosion and safety concerns. The new BADLab wall exhibit provides a summary of what archaeologists discovered when excavating the trench in the 1950s.

post

Sediment Peel (left) and Photograph (right) of the same postmold from the Excavation Trench.

Our recent NCCC AmeriCorps Team painted a representation of the trench stratigraphy on the BADLab wall (In addition, the NCCC Team painted the rest of the room and laid the tile floor.)  Former C.H. Nash Museum Administrative Associate and photographer extraordinaire Katie Maish photographed features from the actual excavation trench that were then printed, mounted on foam core, and installed in their approximate location on the wall painted by the NCCC.

floor

Sediment Peel and Photograph of a House Floor from the Excavation Trench.

The above tasks would have accomplished my initial plans for the exhibit.  However, Ron Brister suggested that we include “sediment peels” in the exhibit design.  When Ron first raised the idea, I was uncertain how the peels would work.  However, I have learned to stand back and let such initiatives unfold – and the result was outstanding.

A sediment peel is where you build a small frame, adhere it to an excavation profile, fill the frame with what I refer to as glop but Ron says is an expanding foam insulation.  You then let the insulation set and dry and then remove it from the excavation wall profile.  Adhering to the hardened insulation is a 2-3 mm “peel” of the profile “sediment” that can then be mounted and exhibited.  In this way, the excavation trench is literally brought into the exhibit, not as a replica, but as an actual archaeological feature.

R&R

(L-R) Robert Connolly and Ron Brister

Total price tag for materials – under $500.00.  All labor donated or Student/Graduate Assistant supplied.

Check back next week for a post on the entire BADLab upgrade process.

 

 

How You Can Help Curate Collections in Nivin, Peru

March 7, 2016

Nivin-Museum-entryI have posted before about the archaeological surprise that my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I experienced last summer in Nivín, Peru.   Elizabeth and I presented a paper at the 2015 Meeting of the Society for Amazonian and Andean Studies in Baton Rouge that discussed this project.

Our work in Nivín is a textbook example of co-creation.  Elizabeth and I traveled to Nivín at the invitation of Gustavo Valencia, director of the small museum in that rural community.  We asked about the museum needs and Professor Valencia immediately responded that he needed books on best practices for collections management in Spanish.  In a few weeks we were able to secure two state-of-the-art volumes and created a digital archive of over 50 files on the subject.

museum-exhibitWe will return to Nivín this June to discuss a long-term collaborative project with the community museum and school.  Thus far, based on our conversations with Professor Valencia and his colleagues, their expressed interests and needs in which we can take part include:

  • Launch a scholarly and community based research project of the archaeological sites surrounding Nivín.
  • Provide resources for English as a Second Language instruction  to enable residents to engage with anticipated visitors to the area.
  • Assist in instituting best practices in both the analysis and curation of cultural materials in the current museum.
  • Provide both formal and informal instruction on these best  practices in both the school and community.

What you can do to help this project . . .

. . . and this is where you can help to analyze and curate the archaeological collections of Nivín, Peru.  The basic materials for laboratory analysis are in very short supply in this rural community on the north coast of Peru.  Below is a list of materials we have identified with Professor Valencia that are of immediate need to launch the curation project this summer:

  • pocket loupes
  • plastic bags of all sizes
  • digital scale or triple beam balance
  • calipers – including OD for measuring ceramic vessels.
  • Sharpies for labeling bags
  • rapidiographs (or similar writing instruments) for labeling artifacts
  • osteological board
  • Munsell soil book
  • microscope
  • nested geological sieves
  • laminate sheet for estimating vessel size
  • other items?
cases

Display cases to be purchased for the Nivin Museum.

Does your academic department or CRM firm have some new or gently used items of the above that are not being used that you can donate to Professor Valencia and his students in Nivín?  Or would you like to make a financial contribution, large or small, that will be used to purchase the above items?  In addition to the listed materials we plan to buy at least two locking display cabinets for the museum.  The cabinets are available in the nearby Peruvian city of Casma for $350.00 each.

We ask that you consider supporting this exciting opportunity to empower a rural Peruvian community to present and preserve their cultural heritage through museum studies and archaeology.

Please contact me directly at rcnnolly@memphis.edu for more information or to find out if the materials you have available are suitable for the Nivín project.  Elizabeth or I can also take delivery of any items at the SAA meeting in Orlando this April.  As well, you can make financial contributions to the PIARA website that will be used exclusively for the Nivín Project.  (Note “Nivín” in the description box on the contribution form.)

Elizabeth, Gustavo and I thank you for your consideration.

 

Distance Learning in Texas Archaeology

February 15, 2016

C.Crav1I first learned of Candice Cravins’ excellent work in Distance Learning at the Institute of Texan Cultures from a post on the Public Archaeology Interest Group’s Facebook Page.  A quick tour of their Distance Learning site shows that Candice and the Texas folks are doing some very impressive work.  She generously agreed to an interview to talk a bit more about her experience and perspective on Distance Learning.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at the Institute of Texan Cultures?

I received my M.S. degree in Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management from Utah State University in 2014, where my thesis research explored object- and STEM-based strategies for teaching archaeology to children in a museum setting. Prior to my arrival at the Institute of Texan Cultures in October 2014, I served as the Educational Programs Manager at Utah State University’s Museum of Anthropology.

As an Educational Specialist for the Institute, I wear many hats! I am primarily responsible for developing and leading distance learning programs for K-12 students, writing and coordinating online educator resources, developing and posting content for department web and social media pages, and planning and leading professional development workshops and family programs. I also assist with school group tours and community outreach events.

How do you see online education opportunities as a bridge between formal education curricula and museums?

Online education opportunities can serve to enhance the classroom learning experience by connecting the intangible with the tangible, providing real-world experiences that help bring textbook concepts to life. As funding for field trips dwindles and emphasis is placed more on developing math and reading skills than on social studies and the arts, museum professionals and K-12 educators alike are looking for new ways to bring the museum experience to the classroom. Virtual field trips, online exhibits, Google chats with experts, games, and other online learning opportunities provide the means for teachers to access museum resources without ever having to leave their classrooms. Museums are well-suited to provide these hands-on learning opportunities that teachers need while at the same time support classroom learning standards and objectives.
C.Crav2What do you consider your most successful recent efforts in public outreach and community engagement?

I consider one of my most successful recent efforts in public outreach to be the launch of our new TexEdventures distance learning programs – virtual tours designed to bring the museum experience to the classroom. When I arrived at the Institute in October 2014, I was tasked with producing and implementing a new distance learning plan designed to bring engaging learning experiences to K-12 students throughout the state of Texas. Prior to my arrival, the Institute had been delivering distance learning programs using IP H.323 protocol videoconferencing technology. Equipment and services were costly to maintain, and programs could only be booked and delivered with the service and support of a technology service provider housed out of a regional Education Service Center – rural, Title 1, or nontraditional students and their teachers often had limited to no access to these programs. In moving forward with new programs, I first wanted to be sure all students and their teachers would have better access to our programming. To me, this meant that programs would need to be free of charge, require minimal technology (i.e., a computer or tablet device with speakers and an Internet connection), and be easy to set up and maintain by a team of one here at the Institute. My main goal for the program was to take things that were already successful onsite and deliver them in a virtual way. I wanted distance learning sessions to be live, individualized, and interactive, giving students the chance to direct their own learning experiences.

We piloted our first new distance learning program, Can You Dig It? Adventures in Texas Archaeology last May using Adobe Connect web conferencing software and an iPad on our exhibit floor. It was a hit with teachers and students both near and far. We have since expanded our offerings and now feature programs on Native American lifeways and how to use primary and secondary sources in the classroom. We plan to further expand our offerings to feature one-time only webinars on special events and even take the technology outside to incorporate some of our outdoor living history exhibits! More information on our programs can be found at www.texancultures.com/distancelearning.

Any recommendations for the cultural heritage professional looking to begin online learning projects?

Think big, but start small! First take a look at what museums, cultural institutions, and other nonprofits are doing in your region and state. What appeals to you most about their online learning programs? Could you and would you want to do something similar for your organization, and how would new online learning projects help fulfill your organization’s mission and meet outreach goals? Have a clear plan in mind for your project from the very beginning – it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology out there, so narrowing in on exactly what you wish to accomplish is key. Do you want to build a website or start a blog? If you work in a museum, do you wish to recreate the field trip experience for K-12 students online? Do you want to build an online course for adults interested in archaeology? Once you decide what you’d like to do, determine whether or not you have the staff and funding to accomplish your project. Develop a plan and timeline for your project. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things, and don’t think that your project needs to be something completely new and groundbreaking – simple is often better to start, especially for those who have limited experience working with technology, work with small budgets, and often juggle multiple projects at the office. Much of what I know now about educational technology and online learning was learned on the job – Google really is your best friend!

One of the first “smaller” projects I tackled when I arrived at the Institute was developing a plan to manage our department’s social media pages. Spending a bit of time each day developing and sharing new educational content on Facebook or Pinterest does wonders for increasing community interest and engagement – if used correctly, social media platforms can be powerful tools for online learning. Take advantage of free online tools, such as Canva, to help you create eye-catching images for your social media posts, and don’t overlook the subtle power of an iPad in creating engaging video content! The possibilities for what you can do for free are endless.

 

For more information, contact Candice at Candice.Cravins(at)utsa.edu

Online Training as an Essential Tool for Small Museums

December 17, 2015

fenceAs the Director of a small museum and through my work with similarly small-sized nonprofits, I wear many hats and need to know a little bit about a lot of things.  This need is particularly true in the area of digital technology and social media where I have come to rely on resources such as Heather Mansfield’s Nonprofit Tech for Good website and her books that I have reviewed.

In addition to developing a social media strategy, I also need the skills necessary to implement the plan. I tend to get this type of technical support by Googling the need.  I am often frustrated to find instructions that assume starting skills beyond my level of expertise.  I value a step-by-step approach that assumes little substantive prior knowledge of the process.  This week, I found two resources that are excellent examples of that type of instruction. 

The Hour of Code

I know nothing about computer programming, but have always thought I should.  As blog creation and other digital processes become more drag and drop, that need is less pronounced, but I do find situations where knowing code or language is either necessary or at least very helpful.  For example, on another blog I write/manage, The Ancash Advocate, posts are bilingual and require inserting anchor points to jump between the Spanish and English translations.  This process requires entering the text editor and inserting html code.  A colleague performed this task initially.  For the past year, I simply copied the bit of code they created and inserted the different titles into my subsequent posts.  I did not know the meaning of what I copied but simply played around with it until I got it to work.

When I have Googled and looked for training, I found an html for Dummies book.  At over 1000 pages the book was a lot more than I wanted.  But last week I got an email from Khan Academy marketing their participation in the global Hour of Code project.  The idea is that if you invest one hour in the process you will learn something about coding.  On the Hour of Code webpage tab one could “Learn how to make webpages with HTML tags and CSS, finishing up by making your very own greeting card.” The age grade for the hour was listed as 8 and up, so I figured I would understand the presentation.  Through instructional video and real-time input, within one hour, the code I used for the bilingual anchors on the Ancash Advocate blog was explained.  I learned the meaning of the html coding I had done by rote.  Further, at the end of the one hour exercise I was linked to another Kahn Academy page for more training on html and related css coding, if I so desired.

Here is the bottom line on this experience.  For a cost of $0.00 (although donations to Kahn Academy are certainly accepted – which I recommend) and one hour of my time, I learned more about html coding than in my previous efforts over the years.  In a very straight forward approach, mysteries about coding were resolved.  The 8 year plus age-grade proved ideal for me.  This experience reminded me of the brick wall I hit when taking genetics in a Biology for Majors class during my undergraduate days.  I overcame that problem by reviewing the All About Book on Heredity that my mother bought me when I was in grade school.  Starting with the very basics proved essential then and now.

 

Photoshop Basics

A second example of implementing technical skills is a Photoshop tutorial I came across this week.  The 10-point tutorial covered many of the Photoshop skills that my students or staff who are often just getting their feet wet in the software typically need to know.  The tutorial also links to the Marketers Crash Course in Visual Content Creation download – a very useful introduction to best practices in the visuals of website and digital content creation.

The Good and the Bad of Quick Intros

The perspective offered by individuals such as Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur likely think little of the types of resources I discuss above.  Their objection is that these simple resources provide folks with the basic tools to edit code, work with photos and so forth without a rigorous and complete training in the area, thus letting the amateurs run amok.  And fair enough, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, but also useful.  Part of the learning process is knowing the limitations that a bit knowledge brings.

Having taken the Kahn Hour of Code, I am anxious to complete the rest of the introductory course on html and css coding.  In addition to understanding the anchor points I create for bilingual posts, I also see how several formatting issues that have bedeviled me for years on this blog are readily resolved with some simple html code adjustments.  In this regard, I come back to my opening statement for this post – as the Director of a small museum, I wear many hats and need to perform a diversity of tasks that in larger institutions might be the responsibility of an IT or social media specialist.  I do not have that luxury or the funds to outsource the work.  Kahn Academy and other training discussed in this post form a valuable part of my small museum toolkit  that allows me to function efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What online training helps you to do your job?

 

Asking for Letters of Reference

November 30, 2015

walker artIn contrast to the previous post that draws on the advice of others, below are some my thoughts on job and graduate school requests for letters of recommendation.  Some of the points may seem overly simple, but based on my experience over the past couple of decades, not considered by many applicants.

Who should I ask to write a letter of recommendation?  Generally, if three letters are required, each letter should discuss a specific aspect of the applicant’s potential. Together, the letters should make up a non-redundant complementary whole.  Ideally, for a graduate school application, one letter should highlight academic performance, one research potential or work ethic, and the third letter can highlight another relevant qualification/experience of the candidate, or combine some variation of the first two.  For a job application, the three letters should highlight different strengths/experiences the applicant brings to the position that may or may not include academic and research performance.  Regardless, the three letters should not all focus on your excellent ability to count widgets, unless the position you are applying for is that of a professional widget counter.  Redundant letters are wasted opportunities to show breadth.

Note too that applicants occasionally think that if three letters are required, six are better.  This is not true.  Assuming the logistical possibility of even submitting more than the required number, the first three letters received will be considered and the remainder tossed.  Too, letters from parents, laterally ranked co-workers, clergy and other personal acquaintances are not of value, except perhaps in rare circumstances.

In my opinion, the best way to ask someone to serve as reference or write a letter of reference, is something like “Will you be able to write me a strong and supportive letter of recommendation?”  If uncertain of what their response might be, give them an easy out like “I realize I have only taken one class from you” or “Although you have only known me for six months . . .”  If the response is no, weak, or a qualified response, the writer is essentially saying ask someone else.  Whereas a reference letter that notes limitations is wholly acceptable, a letter that notes mediocre performance is a death knell.  If an applicant does not have three professors or employers to provide strong supportive statements, that is a problem the applicant needs to address separately.

When should I ask for letters of recommendation?  One month’s notice is a reasonable expectation for writing letters of support.  I will not consider requests with less than two weeks notice except under the most exceptional of circumstances.  Realize that faculty are flooded with requests at this time of year.  For me, writing the first letter for an individual student will take at least one hour to review their documents and compose the letter.  Additional letters for the same individual take less time as the first letter is generally adapted for the additional recommendations.

What information should I supply to the writer for a letter of recommendation?  The short answer is – everything the writer asks for.  Specifically, supply a copy of your transcript, resume, a final version of your statement of intent, any relevant test scores such as GRE, and all the forms, contact information web addresses, and due dates for the letter.  Everything provided must be in final form unless you are specifically consulting with the individual on your draft statements.  Make the final forms available at the time of the ask.  That is, don’t ask for the letter one month before the due date but provide the necessary materials five days before the deadline.

What should I do after I supply all the information to the letter writer?  Check with the writer one week before the due date to verify they wrote and submitted the letter.  Right or wrong, ultimately it is applicant’s responsibility to follow-up and not assume the writer submitted the letter.  For example, I recently ran into a student I wrote a letter of recommendation for a summer fellowship.  I asked if they received the award.  They responded they had not and I commented that was unfortunate because I thought their application was strong.  The individual then noted that the other two letter writers did not turn in their recommendations on time thus voiding the application.  The fact is, when checking in with the letter writer, some will need the reminder and others will simply be appreciative of your professionalism in staying on top of the application process.  For most electronic applications, both the student and letter writer receive confirmation once the letter is successfully submitted.  Although I rarely have this happen, a simple note by the applicant to the letter writer thanking them completing the task goes a long way (see point 3, slide 9 from the presentation referenced in previous post).

What should I do after the application, letters, and paperwork are all submitted?   Let your letter writer know the status/results of the application.  If someone goes to the trouble to write a strong letter, that also means they are interested in your career development.  Keep them informed – this is also a good practice if you want them to serve as a reference in the future.

An important note on job references – When using an individual for a reference on a job application, inform them of that fact.  THIS IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT because a former employer, supervisor, or work related person who is listed on a job application, but not asked to serve as a reference, can be legally bound to only provide a prospective employer with your dates of service and job classification.  That is, they cannot and will not serve as a true reference.

Typically, such requests for employment verification are referred to the Department of Human Resources.  Listing someone as a reference is a completely different matter.  If not explicitly understood that you are asking the individual to serve as a reference, their best option is to consider the request simply one of employment verification.

Generally, references are not contacted until after an individual is interviewed and “short-listed” for a job.  After such an interview, contact your references and let them know to expect contact from the potential employer. Provide the reference with basic information about the job so they can adequately speak to your abilities for the position.  Also, supply the potential employer with the best form of contact for the reference, and note if they will have restricted access for a period of time such as being on sabbatical, out of the country, etc.  Again, staying in touch with your references lets them know that you are take the process seriously which assures they will as well.

Best wishes!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,041 other followers

%d bloggers like this: