Graduate Spotlight: Erika Pekar, Art and Art Education ☆

Erika Pekar graduated from Teachers College in May with a Masters in Art and Art Education. Prior to earning her degree, Erika received a Masters in Elementary Education from Scranton University.

How has your program, Art and Art Education, impacted you?

I want to work in Museum Education and the program has offered me multiple opportunities to gain so much valuable experience in that area. For example, I applied for a fellowship with the Whitney Museum of American Art through Teachers College and I’m doing a one-year, in-depth ethnographic study on the museum’s Teacher Exchange.  Because the fellowship has impacted me, I chose to focus on that research for my Master’s thesis, bringing in my outside experiences to my work at TC. I have also had the opportunity to translate classroom content into the community.  For one of my classes, we were assigned to a museum partnership and presented a research proposal to them, suggesting a research evaluation tool. I am working with the Noguchi Museum and not only did I get to create the tool, I also have the chance to test it in one of their programs. Having both types of learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom enriches my experience here and has deeply impacted me, preparing me for what comes next.

What sparked your interest in museum education?

When I finished my first Master’s degree in Elementary Ed, I did teach for a little bit. I knew that I wanted to teach in a classroom, but then I started volunteering for a small museum in my hometown.  That was my first real experience teaching in a museum setting, and I realized, this is what I want to do.  I love teaching, and in that museum environment I was able to pair it with my undergrad degree in History of Art and Architecture; I was using everything, all of the knowledge that I had gained up until that point. From there, I really wanted to take my own education a step further and that’s why I came to TC.

What do you particularly like about teaching in the museum environment?

Museums are great resources for the community. People may have a stereotyped image of what a museum is; but once you’re there and looking at all the different things that a museum actually contains and the different events and programs that it offers to the community, it’s a whole other kind of learning environment. It’s not just for students K-12; it caters to families, teens and adults, as well as many other diverse audiences.

What will you carry with you?

I presented with two of my TC colleagues at the National Art Education Association Conference, which was in New York City this year. We created a video of student and professor interviews and talked about how our experiences at Teachers College foster collaboration and support different perspectives, both in and out of the classroom. Having our student body come from such diverse places creates a unique experience where we are all able to learn from one another and support each other throughout the learning process.  The program is open to fostering one’s own personal interests.  The faculty gives additional support to help students along with whatever aspect they focus on within the field and students are challenged to explore new and exciting concepts.  I will definitely carry with me all of the memorable experiences that I have shared with my peers and colleagues.  They have helped me to grow and develop both personally and professionally.

What do you like best about your program?

I’ve taken more studio classes here than required by my degree because I find them so enjoyable and easy to be immersed in. It’s a great balance to have a studio class paired with a theory-based class because you’re always thinking about the art.  You can go into the studio and actually create something and then use it as a point of reference to discuss art and the art making process. So, it’s a great back and forth. Throughout the semester you’re creating art that’s reflective of the knowledge that you’re learning. Macy Gallery is part of our program and we are able to create things in our studio courses and then have a space to hang our work in the same space that artists from all over have exhibits in. It’s a great experience to be proud of your work and to have a space to display it and share it with others.  I’m also on the Macy Gallery Committee Team and love being able to interact with and display other’s work.

What’s your dream job after graduation?

I like being here in NYC with all of the incredible museums. Being here for only two years, I’ve worked in the Noguchi Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and all three of them have been different experiences. So I don’t want to say, “Oh my dream job is to work at the Met or the Museum of Natural History or any of the larger, more popular institutions.” Just finding a museum where I know that I can offer something to them as well as to the community while continuing to learn would be a dream job.  It’s something absolutely achievable.