When Emily Murgia ’08, who is an education specialist at the National Postal Museum, took her first art history course during her sophomore year at Wheaton, she jumped at the chance to take a field trip to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, where she had never been before. Before the trip, she’d thought of becoming a history teacher. While there, she observed a museum guide lead a group of young children up to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a Picasso painting that portrays five naked women.
“I awkwardly hovered nearby to hear how the museum guide could possibly make this piece not just age appropriate but interesting for the kids,” Murgia said. “Then I watched, amazed, as the guide transformed the piece of art with a simple question.”
Instead of focusing on the women in the painting, the guide broke it down by focusing on something simpler: shapes. To Murgia’s surprise, the students began to raise their hands and call out shapes. Through that, he transformed the painting into an opportunity to explore shapes, an important skill for children of that age.
“And so I saw the opportunity to become a different kind of history teacher,” she said. “I was going to be a museum educator.”
That realization led Murgia to get a master’s degree in museum education at The George Washington University, where she started studying just two weeks after graduating from Wheaton. While attending graduate school, she worked in a variety of educational positions, from zoos to art museums to history museums.
After graduation, she was hired as an education programs specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. In May 2013, she began working at the National Postal Museum, and is currently an education specialist.
At the postal museum, she manages programs for school groups, including online activities, workshops for teachers and field trips. This winter, she was even interviewed on Fox News in Washington, D.C., about the postal museum, which one of the show’s hosts described as a fun, interactive hidden gem.
“These days, with Common Core and national standards dictating curriculum, it’s difficult for a teacher to schedule a field trip that isn’t specifically geared to improve test scores,” Murgia said. “At the museum, we realize that questions about postal history aren’t often on the exam, so it’s my job to identify and create the opportunities for connections between classroom goals and museum content.”
At Wheaton, the common thread running throughout Murgia’s education was exactly what she ended up doing for a living: taking objects and placing them in new or different contexts.
She credits her college experience with helping her to be open-minded enough to hold the variety of different jobs that she has. An art history major, Murgia was a preceptor, resident advisor and class council officer, and she also worked for Assistant Professor of Museum Studies and Art History Leah Niederstadt.
Niederstadt, curator of Wheaton’s Permanent Collection, taught Murgia about exhibition design, label writing and object handling.
“Emily is an amazing person who has achieved her dream,” said Niederstadt, who last October invited Murgia to campus to meet with “Exhibition Design” students for a workshop and lecture on museum education
Murgia noted that her Connections course “The Math in Art and the Art of Math” has been vital to her career pursuit. “It forced me to reach out of my comfort zone and inspired me to see historical and iconic objects/artifacts in a new way,” she said.