We just had a great Reunion Weekend with many Colby College alumni returning to reconnect and experience all the exciting new things happening across our campus. In this week’s article for The Lantern, we highlight the experiences of one Colby alum who began her engagement with the Museum as a student and is now a member of our Board of Governors. Julia Lo ’14 discusses how her studies at Colby and her work at the Museum prepared her for the professional world, and shares her advice for students preparing for their careers.
What was your area of study when you were a Colby student?
I majored in English/Creative Writing and minored in Cinema Studies and Art History. I remember having these lightbulb moments in class when the things I was learning would sync. I would be taking an American modernist literature class with Cedric Bryant, history of photography with Laura Saltz and international cinema with Steve Wurtzler – at points, we were looking at the same periods in history, but through these different media. You could really imagine what a moment felt like by studying the art and stories that people were making then.
Did you have any interactions with the Museum while you were a student at Colby. If so, in what ways were you involved?
Yes! During my sophomore year I took a JanPlan taught by Lauren Lessing and Matthew Timme of the Museum’s education department. It was a one-month teaching intensive where students learned to conduct arts/humanities lessons for elementary school students. We carried reproductions of art from the Museum into local Waterville classrooms. The Museum was still under construction at the time, and we used to have our classes in one of the few galleries that was open, the Katz Wing. It was pretty awesome to learn in that space – those large paintings surrounding us. After that course, I worked for the Museum as a docent and then interned for the education department during my junior and senior years. We did so much: creating programs revolving around the current exhibitions, hosting events and family days, making children’s gallery guides. The Colby Museum was this unreal cultural hub and this amazingly accessible gem – a two minute walk from my dorm.
How did your professional experiences while at Colby inform or shape the opportunities you wanted to pursue after college?
Working for the Colby Museum made me know what I wanted to pursue. Throughout the week I actually looked forward my internship, and that feeling never really stopped. I knew from that consistent excitement that working in the arts was what I wanted.
What drew you to your current position, and what is the scope of your work?
After graduating in 2014 I interned for The Studio Museum in Harlem, a contemporary art museum in New York City featuring work by artists of African descent and art that’s been inspired by black culture. I was in their development department and learned about the immense strategy and operations that go into fundraising. I was initially hired as a development assistant and database administrator and moved to their special events department a year later, where I ended up organizing their annual gala and luncheon for three years. Those events would raise over 2 million annually. It was incredibly hard work, but I received mentorship from my smart and inspiring colleagues, and we succeeded.
I’m now working in the programs department for the Vilcek Foundation, an organization which raises awareness of immigrant contributions to the US and fosters appreciation for the arts and sciences. We have a number of ways of doing this – from awarding annual prizes to immigrant Americans who are outstanding in their respective fields, to the Foundation maintaining a permanent collection of art, to grantmaking, and more. I work on the coordination and administration of their programs. As an arts-appreciator and a daughter of immigrants, I feel especially lucky to work towards the Foundation’s mission which aligns closely with my personal passions and beliefs.
What advice would you impart to students seeking similar professional opportunities?
Work with the Colby Museum! There are tons of ways to be involved. Whether you intern, give tours as a docent, volunteer for programs, attend events, or just frequent the galleries – you can make these experiences as meaningful as you want. Introduce yourself to the staff there – they are extremely knowledgeable experts in their fields, and not to mention, the most friendly and passionate folks who are willing to help.
And some practical advice: stay in touch with the mentors who are helping you. Send that thank you email, pop in during office hours, stay in touch. The connections you make while you’re on campus can be powerful – mentorship is everything!