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Career Discovery Project - 2012

CD Byline: 
Cai Douwes
CD Postdate: 
15 Aug 2012 - 17:22

The Lavelle Career Discovery Project (CDP) is a partnership between City Access New York, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, and three NYC museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Queens Museum, and the New York Hall of Science.  The goal is to give students who are blind or visually impaired an opportunity to expand their life experiences and provide them with access to the professional world through internships in area museums.

During the first three-month period of the Career Discovery Project, internship sites trained, placed and developed both professional work habits and college readiness skills of the students who were interning there. The skills developed at each site differed slightly, but the work habits were very similar. These included punctuality; understanding dress codes, rules, and professional expectations; conforming to expectations; and developing personal goals pertinent to their internship roles.

There were 2 interns placed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s high competitive high school internship program; 2 interns participating in the Queens Museum of Art Queens Teens program; and 4 interns working as “explainers” in the New York Hall of Science multi-year internship program, the Science Career Ladder.

As one can imagine, since each of the partner museums has a particular culture and the tasks and expectations of the internship programs were quite varied, the experiences and the opportunities for the CDP interns were dependent on where they worked this spring semester. 

There were some concerns early on about transportation, especially to the two locations out in Queens, and as to the need for Job Coaches in situations where students are trying to assert their independence through the challenges of the internship and are looking to their peers instead of professionals for assistance.  

Initially, transportation support fell to the coaches at CBVH, but as the weeks progressed, all of the students became accustomed to their commutes and took care of their own transportation needs.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Queens Museum of Art both asked for there not to be Job Coaches at their sites since the intern coordinators both felt it would change the dynamics of the group of teen interns.  But the NY Hall of Science requested Job Coaches on the weekends to assist their staff with the successful training and oversight of the CDP interns. The location of the museum and the management of each internship program had an effect on the interns’ experiences and their growth in their intern placements.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA)

The two students placed in the MMA program started their Wednesday afternoon trainings at the Met on March 7th.  They spent two weeks in the galleries with their sighted peers learning basic skills for interacting with professionals in a museum, and receiving a quick art history course.  On the 28th, the interns were all given their department assignments.  The CDP students had expressed interest in becoming artists, teaching art, and/or working with kids in the future. So their placement was in the Education Department.

They were introduced to a tailored curriculum that was a challenging mix of study and exploration, focused on college ready skills such as research, writing, analysis and oral presentation.  It was a pre-taste of college art history seminars, and it helped the interns understand the importance of close observation of art works, assisting them with the careful articulation of the formal elements of art, and the contexts in which the art and the ideas were born. 

Each student wrote two short papers that used vivid description, visual analysis, historical context, scholarly and critical interpretation and personal meaning-making or interpretation to describe paintings in the galleries. 

On April 18th, the Met hosted a visit by the Lavelle Fund, and both interns gave oral presentations of their research on Georgia O’Keeffe in her gallery to an audience of 7 adults and some curious onlookers.  

Afterward, they also spoke to the visitors about the fantastic experience they were having at the Met, and the high expectations that they were challenged by.  Both CDP interns expressed their delight in participating in a program where their visual impairments did not change the museum’s expectations of them.  They spoke honestly and eloquently about how so many of the programs designed for students with visual impairments are “dumbed down” and thus not satisfactory.  Their openness was refreshing and enlightening to all.

They finished their internship with 2 weeks of continued exploration in the galleries with their peers, and culminated in a Final Reception and Ceremony that was attended by one of the Transition Counselors from CBVH.  

Queens Museum of Art (QMA)

Their training for the 2 interns placed at QMA took place on Wednesday afternoons, from 4:30 to about 6:00 pm, and consisted of working with a group of about 20 sighted students from two Queens high schools who had all started the program in the Fall.  Led by a museum educator, they learned a variety of skills appropriate to teaching in the galleries such as how to greet people, engage them in discussions about the art in the galleries, and teach the general public how to look at art through careful looking and personal interpretation.  Their training took place over a 4-week period.  And both students were able resulted to work with the QMA Access Coordinator on a weekend program.  

The New York Hall of Science (NYSCI)

The 4 interns chosen for the NYSCI attended a day-long, Saturday training on March 17th designed especially for them during which they were shown around the museum, introduced to a few of the exhibits, and then shadowed an experienced Explainer.  They had their first full days as Explainers in Training on the 24th and 25th of March.

City Access New York hired Job Coaches to work with 2 interns each; one pair on Saturdays and one pair on Sundays.  Both the coaches were recommended by CBVH and both have extensive experience working as paras for students with visual impairments in the public schools. Both Job Coaches were enthusiastic, reliable, and committed to assisting the interns gain work experience and build confidence in the museum environment.

These interns’ experiences were tracked quite successfully in progress reports, or “journal” pages, where each student and each Job Coach reported back on what they had done and learned each week at the Museum.  An example of these activities, as reported by one job coach, is as follows:

(Intern) was a floater in the Central Pavilion, North Wing, Puppet Parade and Preschool Place.  She received training in the technology exhibit Puppet Parade in the Viscusi Gallery. This exhibit uses the X-box Kinect technology with its visitors by having them interact with the screen without the use of a controller.  Today she learned how to use the radio and was no longer shadowing the other explainers during her schedule.

The 4 interns at NYSCI completed their internships on June 9th and 10th.  Most of them had done extremely well in terms of attendance (despite the tricky commutes), all of them had grown as individuals – as demonstrated by their ability to engage visitors and explain scientific concepts – and they all felt confident in their aptitude to teach the general public in a science museum gallery. A few reports speak to these points:

The "Inquiry" training helps the explainer to become more skilled in effectively engaging an interest and response from the audience while presenting. This new skill learned will allow the explainer to become more confident in his or her public speaking when addressing an audience.

(Intern) is very confident in her role of an explainer. She shows no hesitation when answering questions or giving instruction to visitors.

(Intern) throughout her internship has demonstrated the ability to apply the information provided while working in the different exhibits. She always understood the task given during the training sessions and is very comfortable in contributing answers when called upon. Every week, she performed to the best of her ability with confidence and ease when interacting with the visitors to the museum. It has been a pleasure in assisting her in a successful internship. 

Lessons Learned during this Period

The use of the “journal” or progress report was very helpful in tracking and recording the experiences of the interns at the NY Hall of Science.  These reflections were possible in part to the culture of the museum’s internship, or Explainer, program that encourages a daily wrap-up for all of the Explainers.

During this daily wrap-up, the Explainers talk about their practice, their concerns, and their daily highlights. They receive feedback from their peers and their supervisors.  This activity provides the framework for written reflections.  Thanks to the oversight of the museum staff and the Job Coaches City Access New York has a weekly record of attendance and of the student experiences at NYSCI.  In the future, City Access New York will require that all the museums provide our students with time to reflect on their daily experiences in written log books, or in blogs.