Eight M.A. in Museum Professions program students recently presented their audience research evaluations to staff of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The semester-long project was part of the program’s Audience Research and Project Evaluation course.
The class introduces students to the current theory and practice in the field of museum visitor studies. Through a sequence of practical exercises employing qualitative methods, students collaboratively design and conduct an evaluative study in a museum environment, completing first-hand research with museum users.
Led by Sheri Levinsky-Raskin, a member of the program’s esteemed adjunct faculty, who is also assistant vice president for research and evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, students were divided into two groups to work on different evaluation projects. The first group explored a family scavenger hunt program called Find+Flip Cards. Students analyzed families who used the cards and if the cards enhanced their experience. The second group studied a public tour program titled Art in the Round. Students examined the different kinds of visitors participating in the daily tours and how visitors interpreted and benefited from the program.
“By conducting this evaluation in a major museum, my group and I gained real experience working in a research group, celebrating our successes and overcoming challenges,” Kate Dinneny said, a Museum Education track student who worked on the Find+Flip Cards project.
Dinneny, who is a Dean’s Graduate Scholarship recipient, shared details about her group’s project. “Our initial strategy involved non-intrusive observations of Find+Flip participants in the gallery space. However, we quickly realized that we needed to adapt our evaluation strategy to a more active approach, where we personally offered the cards to families to collect observable data. We all learned how important it is to be flexible and adaptable when working with real museum visitors.”
“It is so important to take what you learn and read about in a course and put it into action in an immersive, real museum setting,” Levinsky-Raskin shared. “Everything the students experienced throughout the project reflected real situations, conversations, and decisions that will arise in their careers. I strongly believe that to be prepared to work in a museum, students’ need to experience and be immersed in the museum setting to apply what they are learning in the classroom.”
Amanda McGrady, a Museum Registration track student and also a Dean’s Graduate Scholarship recipient, reflected on her experience working as a member of the Art in the Round group. “I was excited to practice evaluation methods at an institution like the Guggenheim,” she said. “I am grateful to the museum for allowing us access to visitors and for listening to our observations and considering our recommendations.”
“Audience Research and Project Evaluation was an incredibly eye-opening experience that provided me with a baseline to plan future evaluation projects as I move forward as a museum professional,” McGrady concluded.
The M.A. in Museum Professions is an innovative program designed for individuals interested in pursuing careers in museums or related cultural institutions. Students in the program select one of four professional tracks, including Museum Education, Museum Registration, Museum Management, or Exhibition Development. Museum Education students take Audience Research and Project Evaluation as one of their required track courses. The course is also offered as an elective for students in other tracks.
The College currently offers three Master's-level programs, including Museum Professions, Strategic Communication, and Public Relations. In addition, four dual-degree options, including three accelerated B.A./M.A. programs and a dual M.A. degree with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations are offered. A Ph.D. program is currently under development.