Seeing the world differently at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

CDC Spotlight on Student Employees

Sara Rashid ’15 and Aladrianne Young ’16 see the world differently after working at the Mount Holyoke Art Museum. The intimate work environment has cultivated their passion for storytelling and changed their lives. The two are receptionists at the museum and their desk, overlooking Prospect Hall, is the first stop visitors make. 

Rashid sported a pink, leopard-print hijab and gazed at the empty museum. All staff were present by 9:00am, but the museum did not open to the public until 11:00. Rashid sat by the entrance, relaying that she was born in Wisconsin and raised in Bangladesh. She recalled that during her sophomore year, she realized that her experience in studying International Relations fell short of her expectations. That year, after taking an art history class, Rashid changed her focus to an Economics and Art History double major.  Aladrianne Young, a native of California, tells a different story. The Biology and Africana Studies double major was inspired to take the job by her mother and uncle, who during their youth also worked at an art museum. Young’s work sparked an interest in the possibilities of connecting the medium to her health-related pursuits.

Young says that assisting at events and meeting new artists has been the highlight of her job. Recently, Young participated in one of Carrie Mae Weems projects. Winner of the MacArthur Fellowship, Weems visited and stayed at the College for a month starting on September 18th for an art residency program. During her first weekend on campus, Weems requested Young and several others to read first-hand accounts on people’s perspectives of the Michael Brown shooting. Young recalled, “She made everyone feel so comfortable.”

On a daily basis, receptionists such as Rashid and Young are the first point of contact between visitors and the museum. Beyond delegating heavy bags, food, and beverages to the cubbies, their responsibilities from the previous year to now have expanded.

Caitlin Greig is the Senior Administrative Assistant at the Mount Holyoke Art Museum. Starting in the fall, she incorporated projects into the students’ staff agendas, including data entry and filing. Rashid recalled her latest assignment for an exhibit dating to 1993. “We’ve been looking up online data entries for those.” She added, “We’ve been making a lot of labels for files from folders.”

Manager of Museum Advancement and Finance, Debbie Davis, has worked with students for all of the 13 years that she has been with the College.  Davis placed emphasis on always questioning the purpose of each undertaking.  “I always encourage students to use their work study position to learn as much as possible, even if you feel you’re doing something really boring like data entry.” She continued, “There is probably something that you can learn from that. What does that information mean? Why is it important to keep?”

Employers at the museum seek students who would not only benefit from the work environment, but also serve as an asset to the team. Along with another staff member, Greig is the first to rifle through applications on JobX.

The applications are divided between intern and receptionist/guard for both the Mount Holyoke Art Museum and Skinner Museum. Per position, Greig typically receives 30 to 40 applications. Currently, she has seven student employees. Majors do not play a vital role in narrowing down candidates on JobX. Current student employees’ academic interests ranged from statistics to biology. Previous work experience on or off campus is important. Rashid, for example, had worked for a year as a Community Advisor prior to applying to her current receptionist position. Availability for requested time slots, however, is a deal breaker. Greig explained, “It’s nice to have a student here six to ten hours, because then we get to know them. We get to figure out their strengths and weaknesses.” During the interview, Greig hopes that students will ask her specific questions in terms of the work that they may be doing.

Davis placed emphasis on keeping an open line of communication. She said, “Ask questions and let your coworkers and supervisors know what your interests are. “

Communication led to a newfound sense of confidence for Young. “I’ve become more confident when it comes to meeting new people. Guests come all the time.” Occassionally, her new acquaintances turned out to be alumnae. Young recalled, “Some have given me advice on studying abroad.”

Rashid noted that developing her organization skills at work have complimented her studies, especially in her Art History courses and academic research assignments. Rashid highlighted that the key to staying on top of work as a senior depend on prioritization. “For me, academics are number one,” Rashid explained. “Just know what you want to do and what you want to get out of Mount Holyoke.” Besides schoolwork, Rashid acknowledged that the job search is also at the top of her list.

Rashid is applying to consulting jobs. “My first priority right now is to get a job, get some work experience, and then go to grad school.”  In a few years, she hopes to attend the University of Delhi and specialize in south Asian art. Her intent is to move closer to her family and work in the Middle East, India, or Singapore. “I’ve explored the United States,” Rashid explained. “It’s now time to explore a new place.”

At the University of Sussex in Brighton, Young, like Rashid, hopes to dive into another part of the world. In Britain, Young hopes to pursue the question of whether her appreciation for art can play a role in her career. “I’m not an artist, but I’m interested in seeing if art can be used to explain social justice issues surrounding health disparities.” For both Rashid and Young, artwork transitions beyond borders and is used as a tool to better communicate pursuits, from economics to biology.