Interview with Melissa Olsen for the Cooperstown Graduate Program

The following is the second interview for the Cooperstown Graduate Program at SUNY Oneonta. Thank you to Melissa Olsen for the answers! She graduated in 2016 and currently is an Administrative Assistant at a college. Here is what she has to say about her experience in graduate school.


Why did you choose the Cooperstown Graduate School?

The primary reason I chose CGP was the alumni network. With almost a thousand graduates, spanning all fields of the museum industry, I knew there would be someone I could reach out to for anything I may need. And I was right! While I was in school I reached out to numerous alums for help with projects, laws, ideas, etc. Once I graduated I created some very strong relationships with alumni to help with career planning and job opportunities. The alumni network at CGP is unmatched.

What was your favorite class and/or professor and why?

I loved all of my classes and all of my professors but I would say that my favorite professor was Dr. Gretchen Sorin. I never felt like I was attending class when she was teaching. It always felt like a discussion among peers, one intended to make us think outside the box and grow as individuals every time we met.

I would say however, my favorite class was Museum Finance with Brian Alexander. This class taught us how to manage a museum budget when everything is going wrong. It was by far the hardest class I took, but was absolutely the most rewarding. In the end I was able to convince the board that a complete restructure was what we needed to keep the museum going. If I can manage a budget under those circumstances I know I am prepared for whatever comes my way in the future.

What particular skills were taught in the program?

CGP is a generalist program. While I focused my electives on Fundraising, Administration, and Event Planning, I took classes in Material Culture, Class, Race, Gender, History; Informal Education, Science Education, and so on. I received a well-rounded education at CGP and I know that my training allows me to be successful no matter the position I hold.

You mention taking history courses and such at CGP. I have heard from survey respondents that they feel these classes are more East Coast oriented. Do you agree or disagree with this sentiment, or do you feel as if you can’t comment?

I would say that there is an East Coast focus but this is because we do hands on projects so we need to talk about things we can engage with.

Did you complete a thesis or capstone project? If so, what was your topic?

I completed a capstone project. I put together a portfolio that highlights the Fundraising and Administration skills I learned while at CGP.

Where were you and your classmates in your career? Just out of undergrad, or coming from an entry-level museum position, or coming from outside of the field, etc.?

I came to CGP from the for-profit world. I attended school later in life and was looking for a life-change when I attended graduate school. In regards to my class, I would say about half were professionals looking to advance their positions and training, and the remaining classmates were just out of undergrad.

Related, who would you recommend your program for?

I would recommend CGP for anyone who wants to be a museum director, a director for a department within a museum, or anyone who is looking for a well-rounded education. Many museums are small and while you hold a specific title you may be responsible for many other tasks. This program will give you the tools you need to smoothly transition between departments and responsibilities.

Was housing provided for grad students or did you find your own housing and was it a challenge?

We did have to find our own housing; however, the town is very busy in the summer due to Hall of Fame, but slows down in the winter leaving lots of nice and cost-effective housing options. Students are provided with a housing list up-front, making it very easy to find a place to live.

Any other insider information you would like to provide about your program or university?

CGP offers an extensive amount of hands-on projects over the course of two years. Not only will they ensure you are trained for any job in the field they will provide you with projects that you will experience in the industry making you exceptionally prepared for what you will encounter in your career.

Thank you again to Melissa for these great answers! If you would like more information on the Cooperstown Graduate Program check out its blog post or head to the website. If there are additional questions you would like answered about this program feel free to contact me.


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