Student Spotlight: Co-op at Strong Museum solidifies career path

A. Sue Weisler

Vanesa Chiodo, a second-year museum studies student, poses with the Berenstain Bears at an exhibit in The Strong National Museum of Play.

Vanesa Chiodo, a second-year museum studies student, worked as a public programs intern over the summer at The Strong National Museum of Play. Although she was only going into her second year of classes, Chiodo was eager to get some real work experience under her belt. When she landed the co-op at one of the most popular museums in Rochester, there was no way she could turn it down.

The highly interactive museum focuses on encouraging imagination and play in people of all ages. While most of its visitors are children, it also has a number of teenagers and adults who enjoy shopping at mini-Wegmans, making crafts at various exhibits and playing the many games that are offered in the museum. Chiodo, from Penfield, N.Y., was delighted to work in such a fun, unique museum atmosphere.

Chiodo’s dream job is to work in the education department of a museum so she can “inspire the public” through her work and help people find something meaningful in each of their museum visits. After working at The Strong, she knows she is headed in the right direction for her career.

Question: What about the field of museum studies interests you?

Answer: I was initially drawn to museum studies because of its combination of art and history, but I have also been to some absolutely phenomenal museums and I want other people to have the experiences I’ve had. So many people hear the word ‘museum’ and instantly associate that with being boring. However, in many museums, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Museums are becoming more engaging, interactive and inspiring, and I want to have a hand in changing that perception.

Why did you apply to work at the museum?

I learned about opportunities at The Strong from a fellow museum studies student who had worked at the museum the year prior to me. She had such a wonderful and worthwhile experience there, and the way she raved about it made me want to be part of that too. Along with that, I’ve always loved The Strong. I grew up going to the museum and I thought it would be amazing to have this very different experience with it. I’m not only behind the scenes, but I’m also older and actually have knowledge about museums now.

What did your typical work day look like?

My workday varied day to day, which is what I enjoyed most about The Strong. Most days, I would be brainstorming and planning museum events. Other days, I would be out on the museum floor leading our daily story time readings. My favorite days were when we would get in large shipments of toys that I would get to unbox and label so they could then be put out in the museum.

How do you think the skills you learned in your classes helped you?

My museum studies classes definitely helped prepare me to work at The Strong in the basic sense of knowing museum terminology and things of that nature. However, many of my museum classes have always been focused on how museum professionals can further reinvent their museums and make them better. I think having background knowledge on that allowed me to bring new ideas to the table on how the museum can be more inclusive or how we can make changes to better incorporate diversity into our programs.

Tell us about one of the most memorable experiences you had at The Strong?

I’ve had so many amazing and memorable experiences at the museum, it’s truly impossible to choose just one. I will say one of my funniest experiences occurred while trying to set up a desert-themed event for the museum. I convinced myself that I could blow up six large, 4-foot-tall cacti to put in our exhibit space. After almost an hour, I didn’t even have half of one cactus blown up and I was so lightheaded I thought I was going to pass out. I decided to give up my pride and I went to exhibitions department at the museum. They blew up all six of them in about five minutes with a machine. So, I struggled all that time for nothing.

What was the best part of working at the museum? What was the most difficult?

The best part about working at The Strong was the people. On the outside, the museum appears to be fun, bubbly and bright, and I was more than thrilled to discover that the museum is the exact same way behind the scenes. Everyone was so friendly and an absolute pleasure to work with. The most difficult part of the job was making sure that all the events I helped plan were catered to our target audience and would be fun for them. I have very little experience with children, and the things I enjoyed from my childhood are pretty out of date already. So, I had to do a lot of research on the side about what is popular for kids these days.

Why did you choose to pursue a co-op so early in your academic career?

I decided to pursue a co-op early on in my time at RIT because the biggest thing employers look for is experience. When I leave RIT after four years, I want to feel as prepared as possible—not just inside the classroom, but outside of it as well. This experience has been so meaningful for me and has only solidified that this is what I want to do and museums are where I want to be. It’s made me more excited to continue to pursue my education so that I can develop a career in museums and, eventually, obtain a job that I love and can make a difference at.

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