Monday, 16 November 2020

Working with Fort Calgary to Mentor a Junior Employee

Mentorship in Alberta Museums: Part 2

In hiring a Collections Officer at Fort Calgary, a goal of this new position was to provide a full-time opportunity for an emerging professional in the field. Recognizing that this person may need some help navigating all parts of the job, an experienced Collections Management professional, Gail Niinimaa, was engaged as a consultant to liaise with Fort Calgary’s President & CEO, Naomi Grattan, and work directly with the Collections Officer, Adrienne Dewsberry, as a mentor. In this post, they reflect on their experience with this project. 

Miss Part 1? Click here for Reflections on the AMA Mentorship Program.

 

Working with Fort Calgary to Mentor a Junior Employee

Gail Niinimaa, Niinimaa Enterprises Inc.

During the Alberta Museums Association (AMA) 2019 Conference, at the reception at the Royal Alberta Museum, I ran into Naomi Grattan, the new President & CEO of Fort Calgary. We chatted about what we were up to and she mentioned that she may like to pick my brain about their collection and some of their collections management issues. I suggested that I would be happy to be a consultant to a junior staff member and to work together with them, to share my knowledge and to help them along the way. 

We created a formal work arrangement whereby I would work about 4 hours per week for a year to help their new Collections Officer. Adrienne Dewsberry was hired, and in early February she began. This was also a good match because I had also worked with Adrienne at the Museum of the Highwood during the flood project in a similar role, and we knew each other very well and had a good working relationship. Then COVID-19 came, and our 4 hours per week together changed to 45 minutes to 1 hour per week as a Zoom call. Recently we have been able to work again together on-site and complete some of the projects that were in our initial workplan.

For me this has also been an enriching experience as every institution has new challenges and new solutions that need to be discussed and implemented. Together we have worked through a list of improvements to make to the Disaster plan, the Collections plan, and various forms that accompany the plans, as well as RE-ORG of the collection and an overall plan to deal with the move of a collection to a new off-site space.

Being a mentor is an honour. It comes at a time in your life when all of a sudden you have become the expert or qualified voice in the room, and it is rewarding to be able to share that and then watch your mentee take what you have given them and run with it, sometimes farther than you may have been able to go. And sometimes they come back and challenge you with a question or a process that you may not have thought about, and you are able to use your experience to guide them to a new place.


Adrienne Dewsberry, Collections Officer, Fort Calgary

When I started this job in February 2020, I knew I had found my dream job. My schooling and work experience had led me to this place, and I was excited and ready. It can, however, be daunting as a young emerging museum professional to be in a museum where you are the only person in collections. You may not have anyone to go to for a second opinion, advice, or help within your institution, and you are likely still growing your professional network. 

The arrangement that Naomi and Gail came up with in Fall 2019 removed that daunting feeling. This arrangement allows me to grow professionally while still allowing me time to learn from someone who has “been there, done that,” and to take advantage of their professional network. The creation of this mentor-like consultant position is a way Fort Calgary and Gail are investing in the future of the profession by trusting in the next generation. It also sets me up for success. It allows me the opportunity to be in a position to make decisions and prove my skills, while giving me a second set of eyes to help guide those decisions. 

Sharing knowledge and experiences is beneficial in many professions, and museums should look into integrating this idea more. I am happy to help Gail and Fort Calgary share this experience with the museum community as I think many institutions and young emerging professionals like myself can benefit greatly from this type of arrangement.


Naomi Grattan, President & CEO, Fort Calgary

From my perspective, there are many wins to this arrangement. First, it’s fantastic to be able to add someone with Gail’s depth of experience, and expertise to our team, at a fraction of the typical cost. Like many small museums, we couldn’t afford two staff in collections. 

Second, it also gives me an opportunity to make the junior role more attractive – because it comes with the opportunity to learn from a senior person in the field. I’m a huge advocate of creating learning opportunities wherever possible in the work environment, for students and staff alike – so any chance we have to build in mentorship and learning is something I support wholeheartedly. 

Third, it gives me confidence knowing that our collections work is in great hands, thanks to Gail’s expertise, and the wonderful working relationship that she and Adrienne have established. This is a model that I think would work well in many areas of museum work.

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