Interview with Michelle Powers for John F. Kennedy University

Introducing Michelle Powers who received her MA/MBA from John F. Kennedy University in 2013. She is currently an independent leadership and fundraising consultant. Thank you, Michelle, for answering questions about your graduate school experience.


Why did you choose the John F. Kennedy University?

I chose the John F. Kennedy University Museum Studies Program for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • I knew I needed a program in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was already living and working
  • I was referred to the program by many people in the museum field, some of whom were not even alumni. So, the reputation of the program preceded itself.
  • The alumni representatives were always very impressive to me: smart, sharp, thoughtful, and forward-thinking individuals who are wholly committed to the power of the museum experience.
  • They are the only program in existence (to my knowledge) where you can obtain a dual degree: an MA in Museum Studies and an MBA simultaneously.
  • The professors were outstanding and welcomed me warmly from the moment I set foot on campus.

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

My favorite class was Museums and Communities with Margaret Kadoyama, where we spent the semester really digging into the role that museums play in our local communities, the capacity for museums to take a stand on important and timely issues, and gave us hands-on experience serving as “consultants” to an area museum. In this class, we worked with museums to understand their needs, conducted significant research, and immersed ourselves with the community with whom the museum was looking to grow a relationship. It was a tremendously meaningful experience and allowed us to present a comprehensive plan to our respective museum “clients”, with specific actions they can take to build those community relationships. While Margaret has been an advocate for immersive community engagement for many years and is an expert in the field, her enthusiasm for this topic was truly inspiring.

What particular skills were taught in the program?

It is expected that students come into the program with excellent writing and communication skills. We also became proficient in building and conducting professional presentations, developed our teamwork skills through extensive group projects, and, for those in the dual degree program, had the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with professionals in entirely different fields through the MBA program. We learned to think critically and differently about the world around us and understand the crucial role of museums in this world. Above all, you develop a sense of pride and excitement about the ways in which museums are shifting to better accommodate their current and future audiences.

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

I completed both an MBA capstone project and an MA thesis project. Since I graduated, they have since combined these two classes into one, which means that students now only need to write one paper. My MA thesis examined the frequent turnover of development professionals in the museum world to understand how we might employ more effective talent management techniques to aid retention and engagement, as well as the importance of facilitating an internal culture of philanthropy.

Also, that is a great thesis, have you used your findings in your professional career?

My research has certainly informed my approach to work, as I’ve worked diligently to promote a cultural of philanthropy in all of the organizations where I have worked and volunteered.

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.?

My classmates were at all stages of their respective careers: we had some younger folks who were just getting started in their careers, mid-level professionals looking to advance, and even seasoned professionals looking to make a shift into the field. The mix of different levels of experience and different generations was very valuable – everyone brought something interesting to the table.

Related, who would you recommend your program for?

I would recommend this program for anyone who is passionate about the future of the arts. Whether you are interested in a career in museum education, collections, visitor services, fundraising, or marketing – there is something here for you. The Museum Studies program prides itself on attracting a diverse cohort, in every sense of the word.

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

You are expected to find housing on your own. However, for folks who were newer to the area, I recall that many connected before arriving in town and there are often many classmates who live together or eventually wind up moving in together. Unfortunately, housing in the Bay Area is an expensive undertaking, but if you are really willing to dig around, you can find more affordable neighborhoods. The other students are also very helpful and can provide tips and tricks for finding affordable housing.

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

The JFK University Museum Studies alumni network stretches far and wide! In my experience, I’ve found that my fellow alumni are kind, helpful, and always excited to talk to current students. Many of us act as unofficial “ambassadors” for the program – as such, many of the students wind up being people who were referred by other alumni (as was the case with me). Museum Studies alumni and the faculty provide incredible support to students and truly help you open doors. It is a wonderful community!

Any advice for those looking into graduate school and beginning a career in museums?

I would encourage anyone looking at a career in the museum field to really prepare themselves for the reality of a life in the nonprofit world. The work is both challenging and rewarding. To see a real connection between your surrounding community and your museum is wonderful beyond words. Be prepared to put in the work – hard work – to help you find the right job for you.

Thank you again Michelle for these great answers! If you would like more information about the program, check out the blog post or their website. If you would like to read about more graduate experiences at JFKU, head here. As always, contact me or comment below if you have any feedback!


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