Hannah Fagin Credits Grandmother and Opportunities at Penn for Career Choice

Even before coming to the University of Pennsylvania, Hannah Fagin knew she wanted to study the humanities, but she knew she had found her major after her first history course at Penn, “History of the American South.” 

Now a history major with a dual minor in art history and French, Fagin appreciated how open her professors were in allowing students to interpret sources. 

Growing up in Huntington, N.Y., she often created paintings with her grandmother, to whom she credits fostering a lifelong love of art and appreciation for museums. 

“I live a train ride away from New York City, and she has taken me in to see exhibitions my entire life,” Fagin says. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been my favorite place in the world for as long as I can remember.” 

Fagin found herself drawing multiple parallels between the fields of history and art, as they are both about contextualizing and interpreting source materials, she says. 

These elements, along with multiple summer internships at museums across Philadelphia, have solidified her decision to pursue a career in which she can interact with museum visitors and work with art.

Fagin, a rising senior, already has two semesters of museum experience under her belt, and she’s about to enter a third. 

Her first internship was in the spring of her sophomore year. 

Facilitated through Beth Wenger, the History Department chair, Fagin was able to complete an independent study as an intern at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Working in the curatorial department, Fagin says, inspired her to continue pursing internships in the museum field. 

Last summer, she worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, thanks to the Center for Undergraduate Research and FellowshipsSummer Humanities Internship Program, which gives students in the humanities and social sciences an apprentice position in a cultural, historical or archival setting. 

She worked in the museum’s Education Department, under Family and Community Audiences, for part of the week. The other part, she participated in the Museum Studies group colloquium, which helped her understand the functioning of a museum functions and also inter-departmental collaborations. She also learned about shifts in the field of museum operations. 

“The museum world is becoming increasingly focused on audience engagement, activating collections through innovative means such as technologies and strengthening ties to surrounding communities,” Fagin says. “Learning about this process through experts in the field has really stuck with me as I continue to think about a future career in the museum world.” 

Through her summer internship at the PMA, Fagin learned about art history and saw the work of artists with whom she had been unfamiliar. 

But, one of her biggest takeaways was how important it is to be flexible. 

“Every once in a while, I would lead a tour to a particular painting and it may have moved galleries, or a particular room was too crowded to teach in, but, by having such extensive knowledge of the collection, I knew I could teach something nearby as a quick recovery,” she says. “These moments that tested my knowledge also made me the most proud of what I had learned that summer.” 

This summer Fagin is not only returning to the PMA part-time, she’s also participating in an internship at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Penn’s campus to broaden her brush strokes. 

As an Art Splash Educator at the PMA, she will work with children ages 6-12, create projects in the Splash Studio and lead gallery-teaching for families. 

“At the PMA, the emphasis is on bringing children and their grown-ups together through making and appreciating art,” Fagin says. “I hope to home in on my museum education skills by engaging adults and children alike.” 

At the Institute of Contemporary Art, she will be interning with its Programming Department, helping to facilitate summer programming events and working on its upcoming Free for All event. 

“Although I am confident that I would like to work in a museum, I hope to use this summer to gain a better sense of where I see myself in the world of museum professionals,” Fagin says.

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