Building career development into the public history graduate curriculum at IUPUI – Part II

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Editors’ note: This is the second part of a two-part series.  Part I was published on October 14, 2021.

Integration of new professional development coursework into the curriculum has addressed the challenges outlined in the prior post that IUPUI has faced with teaching professional development. This post illustrates how intentional curricular design around a required one-credit course allows the program to manage resources and serve students more effectively throughout their careers.

Seven students sit at a round table with notebooks out listening to a museum professional discuss her career in the field.

Through NCPH’s partnership with IUPUI, MA students gain access to a wide variety of professionals in the field that work in and around Indianapolis, and the new professional development curriculum seeks to enhance and streamline that work. Photo credit: NCPH.

Professional development curricula, particularly at IUPUI, has relied on faculty expertise complemented by guest speakers, including other faculty or visitors on campus for other business. IUPUI workshop series and intern seminars previously relied on individuals circulating through NCPH or those who are locally employed. In part, this resulted from the financial limitations of paying for speakers and their travel. More importantly, though, the previous curriculum can best be described as opportunistic rather than intentional—focused more on exposing students to interesting, varied professionals rather than providing them with coherent issue-based training.

The need for students to receive focused exposure to and teaching by professionals outside the academic environment further complicates this endeavor. For majority-white programs, there is a pressing need for non-white, non-homogenous professionals to participate in professional development training. Establishing long-term relationships between faculty and the variety of experts needed to teach professionalization can be limited by the resources available to the program. Sometimes professional development reflects less the needs of the students involved than it does the availability of a speaker or the funding a program can provide. At IUPUI, where local cultural heritage institutions are also predominantly white, gathering local experts representing diverse experiences can be challenging. Continually asking the same, few colleagues of color to participate in seminars and workshops also brings ethical challenges. A course-based approach may not entirely alleviate this problem, but its intentionality should offer greater opportunity to address it.

Another impetus for developing a course was the recognition that the prior approach to professional development training relied on unpaid labor of internship supervisors, faculty advisors, librarians, and other staff members. An organized curriculum allows faculty to articulate to program partners the professional development goals for students. Partners will contribute to relevant units, offering them recognition and financial support where possible. It will also allow faculty to test assumptions about the public history workplace. This curriculum will rotate among primary instructors and include contributions from others who challenge their approaches.

This new curriculum will require students to articulate their career goals and potential pathways. Some students arrive in the program with firm stances on the types of positions and workplace environments they wish to pursue, yet they may find other career possibilities resonate more with them as they complete internships and learn more about the field. Others arrive with only a vague sense of what a public history workplace environment might be and have little experience taking control of their own careers. Students need encouragement to take agency in their career planning from the outset of their training.

Through this curriculum, students learn that they can best position themselves by making decisions about what they do and don’t want as employees not only on their first day of employment but on their ten-thousandth. IUPUI often supports six-to-eight students a year in entering the job market. After finding that first position, it’s common for students to feel relief; they wrapped up coursework, submitted their final assignments, and are adjusting to a new work schedule and steady paycheck. As they celebrate gainful employment, without proper preparation, students can feel like conversations about career development are simply not meant for them. It is hard for students to get out of the mindset of being grateful for employment and transition to considering themselves part of a professional workforce. Advancement in one’s career, though, is different from employment. Helping students assess how to compare pay versus opportunities for advancement is one example of this strategy. Are there opportunities for developing new competencies, taking leadership roles, or gaining a mentor or network?  Professionalization should focus not just on landing a job but also on navigating broader situations students encounter. How do you learn or change an institution’s culture? How do you deal with workplace conflict? How do you know what you don’t know and when you need help?

We know from the 2019 “What Do Public History Employers Want?” report of the Joint AASLH-AHA-NCPH-OAH Task Force on Public History Education and Employment that public history employers want a variety of experiences. A good internship has students traverse different work areas frequently. Again, this is incredibly useful in landing the first job, but not necessarily useful much beyond that. Internships alone cannot give students a sense of their future. Internships are only one component of the needed experience that students must develop; in a two-year program, a student can only hold two internships. Even when internships align with students’ goals, one or two workplace environments (where they may or may not be fully integrated into the workplace) are not enough to adequately prepare them for a (hopefully) decades-long career.

The new curriculum is organized into four class meetings. Meeting one focuses on getting employed. It runs from crafting the curriculum vitae/resume and cover letter for particular job ads, to applying, requesting references. and preparing for interviews. The second meeting explores how to prepare for that first position and includes looking at organizational values and simulations around common workplace issues. Meeting three transitions students into thinking about networking, relationships, and pivoting towards new opportunities. This unit considers the ways that relationship-building can assist the student in developing professional networks. Students will explore existing public historians and their social networks to understand the role public scholarship and social media play in networking. The final session asks students to develop immediate and longer-term career goals. They learn strategies for identifying and discussing career goals with employers and explore the relationship between goals and financial resources by focusing on grants, fundraising, and the financial aspects of employment. By the semester’s end, students should be able not only to complete preliminary employment tasks and deal with common workplace issues but also to have that first conversation with an employer if the position they hold doesn’t align with their career goals.

A course like this one supplements the one-to-one relationships developed in internships with one-to-many relationships where students can gain broader insights. One goal of this one-to-many relationship development is to encourage and enable students to think more intentionally about a career arc beyond the initial struggle to get a job. Along similar lines, NCPH’s New Professional and Student Committee is developing a companion to The Public History Navigator: How to Choose and Thrive in a Graduate Public History Program that will explore navigating career paths. This new guide, as well as this developing course, will work to explore the tension between what students and emerging professionals want versus what they might need in the long term.

At the end of the course, we want students empowered to devise their career arcs regardless of how individual faculty or internship supervisors might advise them. We also want other public history graduate—and undergraduate—programs to make sure these conversations occur intentionally and include long-term engagement with alumni. If you don’t have a course like this, partner with a program that does, or engage with us at NCPH.

~Jennifer Guiliano is associate professor of history, adjunct associate professor of American Indian Programs, and adjunct associate professor of American Studies at IUPUI.

~Stephanie Rowe is an academic specialist at IUPUI and executive director for the National Council on Public History, based in the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts.

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