Notes From The Workfront: FSU History Alumna Shannon Nortz (BA 2016)

Shannon Nortz

My degree in History directly led me to my career in museums and cultural institutions. When I came to Florida State as an undergraduate, my initial major was actually Environmental Studies, as part of the Geography department. I had taken an AP course on Human Geography in high school and was interested in studying cultures and their interactions around the world. I soon came to realize that this was the wrong major for me and requested a transfer to History, where I could still study those themes! I had always had an interest in history as a young child and once beginning my degree in History, I knew I was on the right track.

Initially, I was quite unsure what to do with my History degree upon reaching graduation. My first thought was to go on to teach, but something about that did not fit for me. I began taking my courses and needed to declare my minor. I remember scanning the list of available minors and when I saw “Museum Studies,” I immediately knew that this was what I was meant to do!

Once I completed my first Museum Studies course, I realized from talking to my fellow students that it would be good to have a broad understanding of history and art history. This is what led me to take on a double major and dual degree in History and Art History. I have fond memories of taking my history courses, such as Napoleonic Europe, History of Asia, and History of Science. They gave me a solid foundation for art history - and vice versa. Being in both programs was the best decision I could have made. By exploring broadly, I was primed with a larger understanding of both disciplines that I could always draw from in research for exhibitions in museums.

After my path had become clear, I began interning at various museums throughout my undergraduate time. I completed internships in the education departments of the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville and the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. Through connections I made in my minor in Museum Studies, I was able to take two consecutive education internships with the FSU Museum of Fine Arts and an internship working with the preparator of the museum. In addition to this, I worked part-time at the Zimmerman Agency (which specialized in marketing and advertising) in their social media department. The two years I spent working there was a valuable experience to have outside of my field.

My History degree set up me for success and a clear trajectory in the museum field. Once I graduated with my undergraduate degrees, I continued my education with FSU and went on to obtain my master’s degree with its Museum and Culture Heritage Studies program. During the first year of the graduate program, I worked part-time as the Collections and Exhibit Research Assistant with the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. My history background came in handy when assisting with exhibits research on World War I and political material history. The second year of my program was spent in Sarasota, at The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida, completing a graduate internship for nine months. I was able to rotate through the various departments of The Ringling.

After I graduated with my master’s degree, I accepted an internship in Washington, D.C. with the Smithsonian, working in the collection’s administration. This path led me into contracting and freelance work. As my current contract with the Smithsonian wraps up, I am venturing on to work as an independent professional and plan to continue my passion for research projects, collections care, and professional development services in museums. In December, I completed my post-graduate certificate program in Museum Studies through the Harvard Extension School. I would never have ended up on such an interesting, unique, and vibrant career path if it were not for beginning my journey in the History major at FSU.

Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I am also available as a mentor on the ProfessioNole site if you are interested in pursuing a career in museums but need more advice.