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Fri, Jun 07, 2024

Oscar Paz

Oscar Paz - Education & Outreach Manager

THI Undergraduate Public Fellowships with the MAH

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) is a thriving community gathering place that offers a full slate of art and history exhibitions, visual and performing artworks, public festivals, education and outreach programs, and cultural celebrations in collaboration with our many partners. Over the years, the MAH has also served as a learning hub for many undergraduate students to gain professional experience.

We collaborate with The Humanities Institute (THI) at the University of California Santa Cruz to support students as they begin their careers. Since 1999, THI has supported over 450 scholars. They directly support the work of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates through their fellowship opportunities.

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Coury Jones (left) and Sebastian Zamora (right), 2024 THI Undergraduate Fellows at the MAH

THI Public Fellowships create opportunities for Humanities students to contribute to research, programming, communications, and other activities at non-profit organizations, companies, and cultural institutions. For the second year in a row, Jessie Durant, Archives Specialist, and I worked with two 4th-year undergraduate THI Fellows. Coury Jones (left), Assistant Education Coordinator, is a History major. Sebastian Zamora (right), Assistant Archives Coordinator, is a History major and a Classics minor.

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Coury and Sebastian at the 27th annual Queer Youth Leadership Awards in Scotts Valley

Through generous funding support from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation and the Mellon Foundation, Jessie and I provided hands-on training and professional experience to Coury and Sebastian during their final year at UCSC. We invited them to reflect on their fellowship at the MAH by asking them a few questions.

Why is a program like THI Public Fellows important? What can university students gain from working with local organizations like the MAH? What can the MAH gain from these collaborations?

Coury: Programs like the THI Fellowship are so important because careers in humanities are underappreciated and undervalued. The opportunities this fellowship provides show that THI is dedicated to helping students envision a path where they can make a career out of their passions. UCSC students are also allowed to make a difference in Santa Cruz by working with community organizations, allowing them to interact with people they wouldn’t have a chance to meet on campus. In exchange, the MAH gets the perspectives, enthusiasm, and skill sets of students that can support and further the MAH’s mission.

Sebastian: Programs like the THI Public Fellows are tremendously important to provide students from the Humanities to gain experience prior to entering the workforce. I have come across so many jobs that require years of experience and opportunities like the fellowship allowed me to qualify for a workforce that is progressively becoming more rigorous. The MAH then gains valuable perspectives from the students who get to be a part of this journey and these perspectives allow for a unique sense of creative collaboration. Overall, I believe that collaboration with local institutions like the MAH not only benefits the outlook of the students, but it also benefits the local communities.

What were some of the projects and tasks that most interested you during your fellowship?

Coury: My favorite part of my fellowship was definitely giving school tours to elementary students. Having a different group of students every day made each tour unpredictable, and I always heard a new perspective, funny comment, or idea with every exhibit. And of course, helping the kids with arts and crafts was a hoot and a half! I also really enjoyed working at museum events, like the Late Night Roller Disco we had in March or the opening of the Sowing Seeds exhibition. Getting to meet artists like Richard Mayhew, curators, and people involved in the Santa Cruz art community was a truly incredible experience that I doubt I would’ve been able to have without this fellowship.

Sebastian: When I first got to the MAH, I was already put into the back archives storage room and this is when I knew that I was in the right place for me. Even though the task was relatively simple, getting to see all of the old documents, maps, and photos that make up Santa Cruz's history was simply breathtaking. Then, I got tasked with my biggest project at the MAH, which consisted of maintaining a digital database of Santa Cruz County’s Blue Plaque Historical Landmarks and assisting with Race Through Time! Now, Race Through Time is an event that has participants using clues and riddles to find historical landmarks surrounding the downtown area, whether walking or biking and just getting to create all of those clues was really fun. I also have a big interest in architecture so I felt as if the work I was doing was made just for me!

How did this opportunity help you develop skills you can carry after graduation?

Coury: My time as a MAH Fellow was my first time in a professional museum space and learning the expectations, behind the scenes work, mentoring new interns, and developing the networking skills required to work in this setting. As someone who wants a career in the museum sphere, working at events with different artists, educators, and museum staff, meant that I was meeting a lot of interesting and talented people who are influential in my own desired career. I needed to learn how to ask questions in order to receive valuable information helpful to someone who’s just starting out. I also got to develop my leadership skills through training interns to give tours and directing up to 30 eight-year-olds throughout a museum full of fragile art. Overall, this experience has been a way to improve my confidence in the professional field and has just been an amazing way to discover what I want in my own career.

Sebastian: The most significant skill that I believe this opportunity helped me develop was how I collaborate with other people with different backgrounds. Throughout my time here, there were many opportunities to gain insight from different people with such different qualities and perspectives and as a team, we used them to work towards a cohesive goal. It was important to recognize that I was not alone in the work I was doing and that others such as higher ups and coworkers were ready to lend any help needed. Rarely in academia do we get to branch out of our disciplines and I believe that this fellowship allowed me to appreciate and find the value in different perspectives.

In The Road to Scientific Success, Will Webster wrote, “It’s never about you—it’s always about what you do for others!” Given your time at the MAH, at UCSC, what does this mean to you?

Coury: My work at the MAH and experiences at UCSC have taught me that I am not a passive member of the community; everything I do has an impact, and I need to make sure that impact reflects my intentions. To me, the way I can ensure that I am taking care of others is to take care of myself. Since a primary component of my fellowship is giving school tours, it can be very draining to take multiple groups of kids around the museum on top of my other work duties, school, class, and life. When I’m burnt out or exhausted, I’m unable to be as engaging on tours or participate as much on campus. I’ve found that when I’m doing things for myself and taking care of my mental health, I am ensuring that I am going to be able to give my best to the community.

Sebastian: One of the first things I realized about my work at the MAH, whether it was back in the storage room or programming, is that community, in general, is the backbone of institutions like the MAH and UCSC. Realizing this added a level of care and compassion to my work because I knew I had a duty to serve and the community was counting on me to do them right. Many of the things I was working with were people’s stories, culture, and more generally, their whole lives. Being given this invaluable opportunity to interact with such rich cultures led me to appreciate the community and acknowledge that not only do these institutions have the privilege of working with communities and have an impact on them, but so do I.

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Coury (left) and Sebastian (right) leading the MAH contingent in the Santa Cruz 2024 Pride Parade