My Graduate School Experience: Cooperstown Graduate Program

I began this blog to decide which graduate school museum studies program was best for my career goals…and to stay sane while working three different part-time jobs in North Carolina. This project culminated at the 2017 AAMG conference in Eugene, Oregon. By then I was working full-time, hired through a grant project by a county historical society in Minnesota. The grant conveniently ended in May, perfect timing if I was admitted to graduate school.

2020 class of CGP graduate students pose in rows in front during the fall semester field trip.
Courtesy of Chris Carey

I spent the last two years living in upstate New York, attending the Cooperstown Graduate Program through SUNY Oneonta. Here’s my perspective on the program. I answered the same questions I asked every other alumni featured in an interview on this blog.

Graduation

I graduated on May 9, 2020!

Why did you choose the Cooperstown Graduate Program?

  • CGP is a generalist program. I wanted more experiences in different aspects of museums than what I was getting while working in the field.
  • CGP tracks their alumni like no other museum studies program I’ve researched. And that alumni network is loyal. I’ve cold-emailed alumni for classes or personal networking and always received a response. On field trips, we meet CGP alum who show us around their museums or departments. We work with alumni on class projects. Alumni support current students and each other.
  • The program is relatively affordable. I was a New York State resident and was able to get that in-state tuition.

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

I enjoyed Cindy Falk’s classes for their material, and her teaching style. She made me curious about style and time period of material culture in a way I had not previously considered. In a program where everyone, including professors over-schedule themselves, Cindy makes sure schedules are adhered to and deadlines take into account our crazy semesters. Her time management and dependability cannot be overstated.

What particular skills were taught in the program?

CGP’s favorite f-word is flexibility. Professors know the reason you move to Cooperstown is to attend CGP and they expect you to act like it. I learned lessons in time management that have changed my habits for the better. There’s plenty of chances to develop leadership skills, inside and outside of the classroom. CGP’s favorite c-word is collaboration. Every class I took required at least one group project. I know my classmates strengths and are better prepared to cooperate with different work flows in the future.

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

CGP doesn’t require a thesis, but you can write one if you want. The last project of my time at CGP, my classmate and I led a team of five to create an exhibition for the Reher Center of Immigrant History and Culture. Putting a positive spin, it was great experience to learn how to do this work during a pandemic.

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.?

Our class was split with about half coming from straight out of undergrad and half returning to school after spending a year or more in the work force. Museum experience also varied from none to years of internships and entry-level positions.

Related, who would you recommend your program for? Any particular focus or for those interested in theory vs. application?

Come here if you:

  • Want to learn a little bit of everything about museums, especially museum administration or education
  • Want to work with museums or other institutions through classes
  • Have your own ideas for museum-related research or topics you want to learn more about
  • Are passionate about museums, social justice, arts, sciences, education, history, etc.
  • Like small towns or believe you can live anywhere for two years
  • Was housing provided for grad students or did you find your own housing and was it a challenge?

    Not officially. Every year, students put together a housing packet for next year’s first years to pick from, or they can find their own around town.

    Did you or any of your peers work while pursuing their degree?

    Yes, about half of my class worked either through a graduate assistantship or through jobs in Cooperstown.

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

    Quirks of CGP

  • There’s a week of orientation in the beginning of the first year, creating events that require the students to get to know each other and the village of Cooperstown. As per most orientations, you either enjoy it or don’t. Either way, you make friends and the orientation has served its purpose.
  • So many field trips! New people, new places, new museums. These trips are amazing and draining at the same time.
  • COVID-19 meant we finished our classes online starting in March. I don’t know how this pandemic is going to change the program let alone the world. I do know CGP has the ability to adapt relatively quickly.
  • Any advice for those looking into graduate school and beginning a career in museums?

    As a person who is trying to find a job in the worst economy since capitalism was widely accepted, remember, let them tell you no. Your self-doubt doesn’t get you a job, your confidence does.

    If you want to see our two years, find us on Instagram, @cgp2020grads.