To explore how museums can serve communities in a meaningful way, I applied to Florida State University for the visiting scholar position in the Museum Education Program in 2017. Twelve months of studying in the Department of Art Education at FSU broadened my view and made me realize that there is so much to learn about this field. In the courses Museum Education and Art Museum Education that I audited, Professor Pat Villeneuve inspired me by introducing important theories in museum education such as the contextual and constructivist models of learning as well as various strategies for interpretation. These experiences have helped me develop an individual philosophy of museum education. I have gained hands-on experience from the course of Visitor-centered Exhibition by Professor Ann Rowson Love, which provides me with an understanding of current visitor-centered theories and practices used in museum exhibition planning. Activities in these classes, visits to the FSU Museum of Fine Arts gallery, and the field trip to the John and Mable Ringling Museum have impressed me, enabled me to view the importance of museum education from the perspective of diverse audiences and realize that Chinese museums lack sufficient visitor-based educational programs.
Motivation to pursue a graduate degree
I am married and have a 10-year-old son. In the past ten years, I have prioritized family life and spent most of my time taking care of my family. In my friends’ eyes, I am caring, responsible and considerate; however, I am also academically ambitious. In 2017, I applied for a visiting scholar position at Florida State University. I felt something was missing from my life and used this opportunity to broaden my research interests and explore an educational field that can benefit women and children in China. During those twelve months, I found my interest in museum education and received an offer from Professor Pat Villeneuve to pursue my doctoral studies in this field. I grabbed the opportunity and walked out of my comfort zone at the age of 40.
Importance and/or impact of research and work
My passion in museum education developed over the past four years as a result of a surge in museum visits in China. In the past decade, the central government mandated that all state-owned museums should gradually eliminate admission fees. While I accompanied my son to various museums, I began to understand the educational value of museums to enrich learning opportunities for the public through shared responsibility with other educational institutions. However, in China, the educational function of museums has not been fully exploited and most museums are still considered as exhibition halls. With the professional knowledge and skills I will obtain from my doctoral studies, I aim to explore educational strategies in museums in China, such as the participatory visitor-centered approaches, and serve the public by enriching their learning opportunities and engaging them in museum educational programs.
Subsequent to obtaining my doctorate degree, I will make my contributions to the field of museum education through teaching, researching and community service. I plan to go back to China and work in academia at the Shandong University of Arts, where I worked as an associate professor before and was offered a faculty position upon receiving my PhD. Besides establishing a program and related courses of museum education at the university, I will translate some key works regarding museum education theories and practices from English into Chinese, which could help Chinese museum scholars construct their theoretical foundations. I will also serve the community by facilitating local and national museums to develop their educational programs and approaches suitable for diverse visitors, which aims to engage visitors, enhance collaboration between museums and their communities, and make museums in China the public spaces for free-choice learning and communication.
Advice for anyone considering graduate school
For anyone considering graduate school, I would like to say that all great journey starts with a dream. Pursuing graduate studies is a priceless experience where you will meet lots of gifted people and you can make a difference to your life. Go for it!
Accomplishments during your graduate career
At FSU, I received the Marylou Kuhn and Ernestine Kuhn Endowed Scholarship (2021) and the Jessie Lovano Kerr Scholarship (2022)
- Publication: Love, A. R., Villeneuve, P., Burns, W. J., Wessel, B., & Jiang, X. (2021). "Dimensions of curation competing values model: Tool for shifting exhibition priorities." The Museum Journal, 64(4), 1-17. doi:10.1111/cura.12442.
- Conference Presentations: On July 1, 2022, I co-presented “Apart/Together: Challenges and Opportunities for Exhibition Curation During Pandemic” at the International Association for Intercultural Communication Studies International Conference. On June 9, 2021, I co-presented “Competing Values Model: Prioritizing Equity and Care in Curation” at the Association of Academic Museums & Galleries Annual (AAMG) Conference. On October 24, 2020, I co-presented “Adaptations in Art Museum Education at the Ringling During COVID-19” at the Emerging Conversations 2020 Conference.