Students research cultural institutions during a pandemic

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This summer, Teddy Campbell ’20, Zhelun Zhou ‘20 and Marisa Modugno ‘22 worked with local museums and cultural institutions in Upstate New York as a part of the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. While the organizations hosting them were quite different, all three were working on projects that considered the museum visitor experience in the time of COVID-19. Below, they describe their experiences.

This summer, we worked remotely with our community partners, communicating with our supervisors through Zoom and email, as we were unable to visit the places that we were working for due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This posed some unique challenges. It was difficult to form the connection with the community that we otherwise would have if we were immersed in the workspace. This meant some of our projects had to be adjusted so that they could be completed without ever visiting.

A typical liberal arts curriculum gives students ways to understand the world around them. But a liberal arts education rarely gives students the opportunity to engage with the world that they are trying to understand. Being a Field School Fellow is an excellent way for students to apply the skills they have acquired through a liberal arts education in the real world. At the same time, working on community-based research helps students apply their research skills and build connections with the nonprofit community, in which the two establish mutual respect and trust.

Teddy Campbell '20 working with the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center

My project for this summer has been to create, distribute, and analyze a visitor use survey for the Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). The VIC is a visitor center located in New York State's beautiful Adirondack Park. Their mission is to connect recreation, education, and the arts through outdoor experiences. They offer a wide range of activities, including hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing on their 25-mile trail system, environmental education programs, art exhibits, and more. The VIC serves both their local community of Franklin County and the wider New York region as a low-cost window to the outdoors.

This summer I have conducted a visitor use survey for the VIC. The goal of the survey was to help the VIC improve their offerings for visitors, as well as providing useful demographic data that will be used in future grant writing. My most important contribution was to bring my experience in survey design and creation, as the VIC had never surveyed their visitors before. I was able to learn from the VIC about how non-profit organizations operate on a day-to-day basis, and the challenges that they face. One challenge, as is the case with many non-profit organizations, is funding. The VIC depends on grant writing for a significant portion of their budget, and being able to cite quantitative data will help them make arguments in their grant applications. By this point, the project has been completed and we have analyzed the survey data into multiple reports. These, along with the unfiltered response data itself, will be sent to the VIC to have on-hand to help guide future changes to the VIC as well as grant applications. 

Marisa Modugno '22 working with the Oneida County History Center

This summer, I worked with the Oneida County History Center in Utica, New York. I created a board portal, which is a platform for nonprofit organizations to organize their meeting documents, financial forms, and policies. After discussing the board’s needs with the directors, I researched different host sites. Together, we decided that Google Sites through G-Suite for Nonprofits was the best fit. Next, I compiled and organized various board documents, and helped update and transcribe some of them. Finally, I created a tutorial for updating and maintaining the site. The goal of this project was to improve the internal organization of the Oneida County History Center. In addition, I updated the organization’s online bookstore and wrote a couple articles on local history. The History Center itself was closed when I first started my fellowship. During this time, they held online history lectures, interacted with the community through social media, and adapted their bookstore to include curbside pickup. However, as New York gradually reopened, they were able to welcome back staff, volunteers, and eventually visitors. Throughout this process, the Oneida County History Center had to establish cleaning protocols as well as procedures for staff and visitors. This experience has taught me about the importance of the “behind the scenes” work that is at the core of all nonprofit organizations. This was particularly apparent during the pandemic, as the History Center had to significantly adapt their organization. 

Zhelun Zhou '20 working with the Chenango County Historical Society

This summer I'm working with the Chenango County Historical Society (CCHS) in Norwich, NY. My main work is to research and plan a design for the upcoming exhibition of local artist Alice Hudson. My work over the past weeks included making contacts and interviews with Alice’s friends and relatives to gain more insights about her life and her work. I communicated with the New York State Library for Alice Hudson's family papers, which the Library staff sent those papers in digital format. I also transcribed Alice Hudson's artworks and also met with my supervisors and consultants through Zoom meetings to determine the plan of the exhibition. The exhibition is to help the CCHS to showcase Norwich’s rich cultural and historical traditions, and to introduce and educate the public about the life and career of Alice Hudson, a creative and remarkable artist who was mostly unknown during her lifetime. At the same time, as this year is the one hundredth year anniversary for the rectification of the Nineteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, CCHS's exhibition of Alice Hudson also promotes progressive ideas and feminism in the public sphere. The project was mutually helpful and collaborative: I learned something new about the culture and landscape of Upstate New York and artist Alice Hudson and could appreciate American folk arts, and the CCHS was better prepared for the upcoming exhibition.