Alice Stryker, Class of 2009
A Passion for Museums
Alice Stryker graduated from Fordham University in 2009, summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in History and American Studies with a concentration in Cultural Products. While she was at Fordham, she fell in love with Museum studies, and is now pursuing a Master of Arts in Museum Studies at George Washington University with a concentration in Exhibit Development and American Studies. (Update, Fall 2011: Allie graduated from GWU in May and since then she has been contracting at several museums. These include the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she is working on one of their inaugural exhibitions, Musical Crossroads, and Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia, where she is a collections manager). The recipient of numerous awards and honors including the 2011 Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum Scholarship Recipient, the Daughter of the American Revolution Graduate Fellowship (the George Washington University 2010 recipient), as well as the Fordham University American Studies Orestes Brownson Award and History Department A. Paul Levack Award, she has also already gained significant experience in numerous museums including the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Originally from Southern New Jersey, right across the bay from Atlantic City, Stryker never thought of going to Fordham until she spoke to her grandfather, who turned out to be an alum. He took her on a tour of the campus and she fell in love with the school. When she was a sophomore, Stryker first began to explore a career in museums. Despite her passion for history, Stryker did not know what kind of work she could do aside from teach or go to law school. After speaking to her advisor who suggested public history and museums, she began volunteering as a Docent at the Merchant’s House Museum in NoHo. Not only did Stryker find that she really enjoyed giving tours and interacting with visitors, but she was also curious about how the museum acquired objects, curated exhibits, and worked with donors. That summer, she worked as the “Summer Keeper” at a Lighthouse near her hometown. There, she gained experience working with museum educators and fundraisers. When Stryker returned to Fordham for her Junior year, she began interning with the Bronx African American History Project where she worked with oral histories in their archives. Through these various experience Stryker decided she wanted to be working with exhibit content and do something curatorial, ultimately, choosing George Washington for its reputation and relationship with the Smithsonian, which has helped her get a curatorial internship at the National Portrait Gallery and her current job at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Q & A:
What drew you to the American Studies program at Fordham?
I was excited about the interdisciplinary structure of the major. The idea of taking classes that taught students to really think critically and explore societal constructions was appealing to me. I was interested in the intersection of history and culture and the American Studies program gave me the flexibility to explore both topics and the places where they overlapped.
What were some of your favorite experiences as an American Studies Major at Fordham?
There were so many great courses offered to American Studies students, but I think my favorite was Dr. Swinth’s Junior Seminar. I enjoyed studying cultural theory and thinking about how it could be observed in action by looking at different historical moments. In fact, I still regularly pick up books and articles I first read in her class for use in my graduate classes and at work!
What did you write your SENIOR thesis on? How did you get interested in that topic?
I wrote my thesis on late 19th century immigrant children living in the Lower East Side. I got the opportunity to do independent research the summer before my senior year and decided to use that time to develop my thesis. While sifting through children’s diaries in the special collections of the New York Public Library, I was drawn to the lives of children living on the streets of New York and the adults who helped them. The Children’s Aid Society seemed particularly interesting because they tried to integrate the latest science on hygiene, play, and learning into the care they provided to children. In my thesis, I focused exclusively on their use of hygiene and cleanliness as it pertained to their assimilation practices.
How did American studies At Fordham prepare you for your current pursuits?
I’m currently finishing up my Masters in Museum Studies at The George Washington University and working as an exhibit researcher for one of the inaugural exhibits at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. My American Studies concentration was Cultural Products and to fulfill this concentration I took classes like Jazz History, Movies and the American Experience, and Pop Culture. The lectures and readings from all of these classes guide my research for NMAAHC everyday. Additionally, my undergraduate training in American Studies has really prepared me for the graduate level American Studies classes I’m taking to fulfill academic requirements for my Museum Studies degree. To complete my masters, I’m required to have both a professional concentration as well as an academic one. For my professional museum studies concentration I’m focusing on Exhibition Development and for my academic concentration I’m continuing my American Studies training. Without having taken American Studies courses at the undergraduate level, I know I would be totally lost in the graduate level classes.
Do you have any advice for current American Studies students?
I’m pretty early into my career, but I would say when thinking about goals for life after Fordham talk to as many people as possible. I got advice from advisors, professors, and people in the field and I think hearing all the options really helped me make a decision. I’d also say intern as much as you can. I did three internships while at Fordham and they not only helped me decide on a career path, but also helped get me into graduate school. And while we’re on the subject of interning, consider looking at the museum and public history fields! These fields are growing and are ideal for people who have interdisciplinary training!