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Nov. 27, 2017
Public history students at Northwest Missouri State University recently received some insight into working at public museums from a pair of professionals who once sat in their seats.
Trevor Tutt, the collections assistant for St. Joseph Museums, and Brent Trout, the executive director of the Muskogee War Memorial Park in Oklahoma, visited Dr. Elyssa Ford’s public history class on Nov. 6 to share their experiences and discuss the skills that helped them secure employment in their fields.
“If you like history, one of the cool things about museum work is that if you move museums, at the smaller level, you get to constantly learn new things,” said Ford, whose professional experience also includes museum work. “That’s one of the skills you have as a historian, knowing how to do research and how to learn.
Tutt, who earned his bachelor’s degree in humanities at Northwest in 2011 and completed his master’s degree at the University in history in 2015, reflected on the advantages and connections internships provided him to launch his career. As an undergraduate, he worked in Northwest’s B.D. Owens Library, which not only provided him a job on the campus but provided him with access to resources that supported his research skills and interests. Later, as a graduate student, he earned a graduate assistantship with the theatre program and applied his theatre history knowledge.
Tutt’s public history coursework also helped him meet and network with people connected to area museums. He completed internships at the Nodaway County Historical Society in Maryville and the Andrew County Museum in Savannah. There, he met people who operate the St. Joseph museums.
“Internships are where you’re going to get the biggest experience,” he said. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
As Tutt was completing his master’s degree at Northwest, he applied for a director position at the St. Joseph Museum. He didn’t get the job, but the individual who was hired saw Tutt’s résumé and invited him to consider a collection manager position that involved archival work and suited his skillset.
He started that role in 2014 as a part-time employee and was promoted to a full-time position after completing his master’s degree. Tutt is a caretaker of the museum’s collection, handles accessions, and helps brainstorm and plan exhibits.
“Something that Trevor’s done really well is making connections,” Ford said. “When he was at Andrew County, he was meeting people at St. Joe, and really the reason he got the full-time job in St. Joe is the director there said he was so awesome that she wanted to make sure to keep him. So she figured out how to turn that part-time job into a full-time job.”
Trout, looking to begin a second career, completed his master’s degree in history at Northwest in 2014. While pursuing his degree, he leveraged his professional experience in information technology and interests in history to secure a job with Museum at Prairiefire, a natural history museum in Overland Park, Kansas, working on their ticketing system as well as membership sales and in the gift shop. The work was short-lived, but it got him into the museum field while he looked for opportunities.
Eventually, Trout was invited to interview for an opening at the Muskogee War Memorial Park and became its executive director. The museum features a World War II submarine and a piece of the U.S.S. Oklahoma that sunk during World War II, among other artifacts. Trout oversees accessions and produces oral histories. He also serves as chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission in Muskogee.
Both Tutt and Trout talked about the importance in their fields of self-branding, website building, social media, learning basic marketing, and working with community organizations and volunteers. Both have had to broaden their interests and adapt their skills to remain competitive and help advance their museums.
“You’re able to put your flavor and spin on everything, but you use what you learn at Northwest,” Tutt said.
Megan Fickler, a student in Ford’s public history class this fall and a senior history major from Omaha, Nebraska, can already relate to the experiences Tutt and Trout shared with the class. Fickler interned at the St. Joseph Museum with Tutt last spring, working with its collection, including international dolls and its Native American and black archives.
“I got to do a lot of different things, so I got to see a lot of different sides,” she said. “I went to committee meetings, I did curating, exhibit development, town meetings and interacting with the public. I sanded walls and did some painting and research.”
Fickler will graduate from Northwest in December and plans to pursue work in military museums.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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