Gaining the Skills, Independence, and Confidence Needed for a Professional Career
Nurtured by supportive relationships with faculty and staff and equipped with both industry-specific and transferable skills, Quinn Tahon’21 is well on his way toward a career in the world of academic and cultural institutions.
Arriving at Beloit College as a first-year student, Quinn Tahon’21 gravitated toward the Logan Museum of Anthropology. Having been introduced to anthropology in high school and held several internships in the American Museum of Natural History, the Logan and Beloit College’s anthropology program had both factored into his decision to attend Beloit, along with his desire to attend a small, liberal arts college.
Nonetheless, when Quinn, who majored in anthropology and minored in museum studies, landed a work study job in the Logan, he was initially both unsure of himself and hesitant to ask for help. That quickly changed. Logan Museum director Nicolette Meister took a vested interest in him; she’d hired him while he was a student in the collections care course she teaches. And as his skills grew, so did his self-confidence. Besides, he loved losing himself in the history to be found in the Logan.
“Objects have meaning and if you study them carefully enough, they’ll tell you stories. One of our first assignments in the collections care course was to pick an object and find out everything you could about it. The detective work needed to do that was really satisfying.”
Quinn loves storytelling and writing, and is fascinated by the relationship between museum objects and the texts on their exhibit labels. “Collections don’t have real meaning unless they are presented to the public. It is in the presentation to the public that the interplay between object and text becomes so important.”
The anthropology course Quinn took as a high school student living in Queens, NY had been transformative: a wider world existed. But getting to know that world also meant understanding its flaws. “I feel a responsibility to be aware of the world’s injustices, even if I can’t do anything directly about them.”
But indirectly he does, by telling hidden or untold stories. Meeting Manuel Ferreira in his senior year let Quinn know that there was a place in the museum world not only for a young, queer man, but for enlisting museum collections to tell LGBTQ stories across cultures. Manuel had recently been hired as the Logan’s curator of collections.
“Together we proposed a project to create a queer-centered database to make LGBTQ topics more visible and to make it easier to search for objects by using LGBTQ-related search terms. When the proposal was a approved, we put together a working group to help develop the terminology used in the data base.”
The collegial relationship Quinn enjoyed with Manuel wasn’t entirely unique. In addition to Nicolette Meister, anthropology faculty had made him feel welcome at home: archaeologist Shannon Fie and bio-archaeologist Leslie Williams, and cultural anthropologist Lisa Anderson-Levy, now the provost at Macalester College, who taught him how to slow down, breathe, and put less pressure on himself.
The museum specific knowledge, skills, and experience Quinn acquired at Beloit helped him land a virtual internship with theNational Women’s History Museum the summer following graduation. But the soft or transferable skills he’d gained - particularly creative problem solving and agility - became key on the job. Asked to create a virtual education program on women’s contributions to science, he ultimately assembled nine lessons, with basic science concepts explained in each.
“The internship required me to work largely on my own and to make decisions on the spot, as I met just once weekly with my supervisor. As a result, I’m a much more independent worker now, and also more self-confident. I’m also really grateful that Beloit prepared me so well.”
Quinn’s new challenge is to secure a more permanent position, but his self-confidence and job experience are allowing him to be selective. “I recently turned down an opportunity I’d been offered. Although I want a job, the fit didn’t seem right.”
Luckily, Quinn is backed up in his job search by the networking skills he began developing at Beloit, as well as programs such as Beloiters Helping Beloiters, which has introduced him to alumni working in the museum world. He has also benefited from the guidance offered by Career Works staff, including director Jessica Fox-Wilson.
“The job search process is scary. But I have a good sense of what I need to do, have faculty and staff at Beloit to call on as mentors in the process, and above all, I’ve got a good sense of not only what I want to do - namely collections or exhibits work in cultural or academic institutions - but that I am capable of doing the work.”
Quinn’s advice to current and future Beloiters? “I struggled when I came to Beloit, and was tempted to sit back. Don’t sit back! Faculty at Beloit are invested in their students. Take advantage of that to ask for help, do special projects, and get a campus job that will allow you to explore work that interests you. And if someone extends an invitation to you to attend an event or an activity, say yes. I regret the times I said no. After all, at worst nothing bad will happen if you accept, and more likely, something positive will result.”