On November 13th, alumna Shama Rahman ’13 spoke to Smithies at the Art Department’s Art Box Lunch Series, and I got to spend some time talking to her in true Smithie style at the Campus Center. During both her presentation and the time we spent talking, she told me all about her time at Smith and what she has achieved post-graduation. As an art history major, I was initially excited to hear about all the opportunities that Shama took advantage of at Smith and how they helped her in her future endeavors. As a Smithie however, I was relieved to hear about her experiences in trial and error, and to receive advice from someone who had gone through, and successfully lived through, what I’m going through now. Shama’s experience was really shaped by a willingness to take risks and the opportunities that she sought out. From internships and projects to real life job experiences, Shama’s experience is not at all limited and she really represents what a Smithie can do.
Shama majored in economics and minored in art history, with a concentration in museum studies. She was a proud resident of Scales House, and being a member of house council and her house community is just one example of her broad participation in the Smith Community. 21st Century Scholars provides a full list of the positions she held:
•Marketing Assistant at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA)•Communications Assistant for Smith College Narratives of Dress Symposium•Senior Interviewer at Office of Admission•Student Representative for College Council on Community Policy (CCCP)•Student Representative for the Technology Steering Committee•Student Academic Liaison for BRIDGE Pre-Orientation Program•Alumnae Reunion Ambassador•STRIDE Research Assistant in Philosophy•Chair of Student Museum Advisory Council•Chair of SGA Elections & Appointments Committee
Just hearing about all of the opportunities one could consider was really eye-opening and it inspired me to really look through our school’s resources. Read on to find out how Shama Rahman navigated her college experience, and the steps she took to shape her post-grad career.
KK: How did you first choose your major(s)?
SR: In high school, I wanted to study government and prelaw, but changed my focus to economics once I started Smith. I wanted to do something that was qualitative, quantitative, and analytical, and my parents thought Economics was a practical fit, so it was really a joint decision. With art history, though, it was very much my own choice to pursue it as a minor, but it was great to have my parents’ support in the process.
KK: Were there any memorable professors or classes that really had an impact on you?
SR: I have great memories of many of my classes, but one that really influenced my choice to minor in art history was Frazer Ward’s ARH 101 class, The Lives of Objects. It was my first art history class, so I was nervous about starting something new, but he just made me feel really comfortable thinking, talking, and writing about art. The year after I took that course, I received an email from school that said Frazer had recommended me for a writing tutor position at the Jacobson center. It was a total surprise and a real honor, so even though I didn’t end up becoming a tutor, that gesture felt like a vote of confidence and helped me become more confident in my own writing and editing abilities. Barbara Kellum was my minor advisor and has really become a mentor in every sense of the word since I graduated. My first class with Barbara was Topics in Art History: Streets, a 200-level writing course. It completely changed how I thought about art history and what could be included in the canon of the field. I am really interested in public art projects and spaces, so I wrote about various aspects of the Highline in New York, but I was amazed that Barbara really encouraged everyone in our class to write about what they were interested in as it related to streets. In a school environment, I admired that she wanted to encourage people to enjoy their work and I think that method allowed for everyone to invest their best efforts.
KK: Did you have any meaningful study abroad experiences or internships while you were at Smith?
SR: I am really lucky to have had the experiences I did during my time at Smith. I was a marketing intern at Oxford University Press in New York City the summer after my sophomore year and then a curatorial intern at the National Museum of American History through Smith’s Smithsonian program the fall of my junior year. Before I left for both of those experiences, I contacted Margi Caplan at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) because there was an opening for a marketing assistant position at the museum. I didn’t have much marketing experience at that point, but I knew I would gain a skill set through my two upcoming experiences and I am very lucky Margi gave me a chance since I worked with her on student outreach until I graduated.
The summer after my junior year I was a marketing intern at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and during my senior year I applied for an International Experience Grant to research art marketing best practices, employed by cultural institutions abroad. I traveled to London and Paris, which was a dream, and I looked at how a range of organizations, from corporate galleries to national museums, were reaching audiences in two cities with a long history of cultural engagement. I connected with a number of Smithies while I was abroad and I think the experience showed me what I could independently do on many levels.
KK: In what ways do you think Smith has prepared you for life after graduation? Any thing you would change or do differently?
SR: I can only speak about my own experience and I think one of the biggest gifts Smith gave me was confidence. I have felt unsure quite a few times since I graduated in 2013, but I think I’ve managed to listen to my gut and be confident in my decisions because of what I learned in college. There are many people who still believe that liberal arts colleges don’t give you technical skills or job preparation, but I have to disagree. If you work on or off campus, complete projects, participate in internships, and engage in the work in other ways, you can definitely gain the “technical” skills needed for the work world. I also think Smith taught me to think, read, write, and research, which is helpful for any post-graduate pursuit.
In terms of changing anything in the past, I wish I had started art history earlier, it took me a year and a half to take my first art history class because I was intimidated by the discipline. I honestly have no regrets about my time at Smith, but if I could go back and spend more time reading books for pleasure and hanging out with my friends, I would love that!
KK: If you could give your college-self a piece of advice, what would it be?
SR: I would go back and advise myself to be less afraid of mistakes, to take hard classes and just go for it, because being afraid of a bad grade is a not the way to learn about yourself and push yourself. I was really interested in architecture and I wish I had just tried to take a course instead of shying away from it once I heard about the long hours it required, etc.
KK: What was your first industry job and how did you get it?
SR: I worked as a marketing consultant at ARTstor. I was originally supposed to be a summer intern after graduation, but once they knew I was graduating, they asked me to do a six month consultantship instead.
KK: What is your current job/position?
SR: I work as a marketing associate at the Guggenheim Museum.
KK: What does your job entail/what is a typical day like?
SR: While there are no typical days, my job is essentially split between admin tasks, such as budget management, and audience engagement and outreach, which I really enjoy. I work on promoting our public and family programs, so I put together email campaigns, send out print materials, and social media exchanges with other cultural organizations.
KK: What is the best part of your job?
SR: This is a hard one, but I love getting to write and to contact other cultural organizations, and to brainstorm places we haven’t been in touch with yet. I think it’s a great way to create partnerships and create relationships with other people, both on a personal level between me and the other person, and also institutionally between the Guggenheim and that organization.
KK: What is a mistake you’ve made that you’ve learned from?
SR: There are definitely several mistakes I’ve made, but I think for me a big one was when I started a print project without asking enough clarifying questions first. I went through all the steps I thought I was supposed to do, but I had to go and do it all over again once I saw that I had missed a few key parts. I ended up having to push the due date back by a few weeks and the experience really taught me to ask as many questions as I have at the beginning of a project to avoid mishaps and extra work later on.
KK: What is something that you’ve learned about your industry that you wish you knew when you started?
SR: I didn’t know that there were people who worked at the museum who had such varied personal investments and interests in the institution. I care about museum marketing specifically because I really care about audience engagement and audience development, but there are other people I work with who don’t have the same institutional interests. It’s interesting to see because while I would expect people to come from varied backgrounds, seeing such different interests in art at work is really amazing. No two people think about museums the same way.
KK: What other career goals do you hope to achieve in the future?
SR: I would love to pursue a dual degree, an MBA and a Masters or PhD. I’m really interested in architecture, art history, and urban studies, so I hope studying a combination of those three is in my future. I’m also interested in further developing my own interests in the museum world on an ideological basis. I have the impression that some people see marketing as a very professional “technical” field, but I have a very active interest in the creation and development of museums.
KK: What advice would you give to someone studying art history and hoping to work in the art/museum industry?
SR: I don’t think you have to study art history to work in an art museum, that’s definitely my first piece of advice. If you’re not in love with art history, you can love art museums and study other things. I work with people who studied religion, journalism, and biology, so I think everyone can end up in the same place with different experiences and I think that adds great value to my work place. I think the biggest question I would ask someone who wants to work in museums, is why? Is it because of prestige and cache? Do you want to work at an art museum because you think you’re supposed to work there as an art history major? Or are you really interested in pursuing, progressing, changing, and evolving the field? Really think about your passion and what you care about. What is going to get you out of bed every day if you have an hour-long commute? What will get you to the museum and what will you get out of it? I think those are the questions you should think about before pursuing a career in anything, especially the art world.