Mary Bailey MA '10 (Museum Education) is the Manager of Public Engagement at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Mary Bailey MA '10 (Museum Education)
No one has a better job than I do. I think I have the trick to museum education figured out: talk to everyone, carry an owl, and enjoy every minute of it.
“Who knows what kind of bird am I holding?” I ask the group of museum guests gathered before me in North American Hall. One precocious child pipes up: “That’s a barn owl. I really like owls. They eat small animals and then they puke up their bones.” Amidst the laughter of the other adults, I do not change my expression, but inside I am howling with mirth. “That’s true,” I reply seriously, trying not to derail this young extrovert’s enthusiasm by focusing on his colorful choice of words rather than his genuine interest in a natural history topic. The owl, perhaps sensing that she has been lampooned, flaps her wings and readjusts herself on my glove, digging her talons into the fragrant leather. The crowd oohs and aahs. They start to pepper me with questions. “What is her name? Why is her wing crooked? What do you feed her? Where does she live? Can I touch her?” A few minutes more, and then I whisk the beleaguered avian back to her cozy enclosure in the Live Animal Center. All in all, another successful public program, featuring an unconventional museum “object” and a splendid moment of levity. No one has a better job than I do.
My forte has always been connecting with people. From giving tours on my college campus to teaching kindergarten in South Korea, I have always found myself a disseminator of information, finding new and innovative ways to reach and inspire people. There were always clues that I would end up working as a conservation educator, but before I ever heard of “museum education” or “informal learning,” I never knew how to put all the pieces together. The Museum Education master’s degree program at the University of the Arts was the culminating experience I needed to combine all of my interests into a fulfilling career.
My first experience working in a museum was volunteering during summers home from college in the Children’s Discovery Room at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. That expanded into helping develop the museum’s flagship summer camp program, “Biozone,” now entering its 12th year. Following college, I moved to Asia to teach ESL to kindergarten students. After four years of traveling and teaching, I was ready to take the next step in my career, but I wasn’t sure what that would be.
Recalling the pleasure I had working at the museum and considering how much I had recently enjoyed being a teacher, I stumbled across the UArts program while I was sitting in an internet café in Vietnam; I applied the same week and within a few months, I moved across the world to the museum-rich city of Philadelphia. I took courses that opened my eyes to museum education and engaged in internships across the city, at UPenn and the Franklin Institute. I worked in visitor services at the Independence Seaport Museum and education at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Academy. My next adventure is about to begin; in the winter of 2015 I became the Academy’s new manager of Public Engagement.
I am very much looking forward to this next chapter of my museum career, because I think I have the trick to museum education figured out: talk to everyone, carry an owl, and enjoy every minute of it.