GRADUCon 2020 - Careers in Museum Education



Are you interested in a career in museums where you can bring your knowledge and expertise to a public audience through educational programming and audience engagement? This interdisciplinary panel will highlight a wide range of career paths in the field of museum education, understood broadly to encompass a variety of roles that support a mission of audience learning and engagement. From lifelong learning initiatives at the Art Institute of Chicago to public programming at the Morton Arboretum, the alumni panelists have drawn on their graduate training in diverse ways connected by a common interest in facilitating and shaping the learning experiences of museum audiences. The panelists represent a variety of museums and cultural institutions around Chicago, including the Art Institute, the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, the Morton Arboretum, and the Shedd Aquarium. They also represent a wide range of academic backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM. Drawing on their own experiences, the panelists will discuss the diverse roles that exist in museum education and provide practical advice for graduate students and postdocs interested in pursuing a career in the field.


Heather Barnes, Director, Aquatics and Live Shows, Shedd Aquarium (MA, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago)

Heather Barnes directs the aquatic presentation at the John G. Shedd Aquarium for millions of guests annually. Prior, Heather was the Director of Guest Experience at the Museum of Industry for over ten years. In both organizations Heather has used improvisational techniques to engage guests, personalize experiences, and teach science content. In 2017 Heather founded her own consulting company Improv at Work, LLC and she leads science communication workshops at universities, museums, and theme parks nationally. Heather is on faculty at the Second City Training Center Chicago and has a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

Megan Dunning, Manager of Adult Learning Programs, The Morton Arboretum (PhD, Genetics, University of Chicago, 2008)

Megan Dunning is the Manager of Adult Learning Programs for The Morton Arboretum, a 1700 acre museum of trees just outside of Chicago, where she has worked since 2007. She oversees curriculum development and program management of informal educational programs for adults, college students, and green industry professionals.  These programs focus on trees, plants, gardens, and enjoying and restoring nature and include both in-person and online classes. Before entering the world of public gardens, Megan studied the co-evolution of plants and their pathogens at the University of Chicago, where she completed a Ph.D. in Genetics. She is a plant enthusiast and an advocate for the power of experiential learning.  You can view the Arboretum’s educational offerings at

Melanie Garcia Sympson, Curatorial Associate, The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University (PhD, History of Art, University of Michigan, 2014; MA, History of Art, University of Michigan, 2008)

Melanie Garcia Sympson is a Curatorial Associate at The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. In this role, she supports and manages exhibition projects, conducts research on artwork and artists represented in the collection, and helps set standards for the collections database. She also has a keen interest in adult learning, having previously taught in the Odyssey Project, and is currently an adjunct lecturer in Learning and Public Engagement at The Art Institute of Chicago. Melanie holds a BA in Art History from the University of Chicago and a PhD in the History of Art from the University of Michigan, and has worked at The J. Paul Getty Museum and Kalamazoo College.

Lucas Livingston, Assistant Director, Accessibility and Lifelong Learning, Art Institute of Chicago (MA, Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World, University of Chicago, 2002)

Lucas Livingston directs the Art Institute of Chicago’s art enrichment, educational, therapeutic, health, and wellness opportunities for older adult learners and people with disabilities. He frequently leads workshops, panel discussions, webinars, and conference presentations about art enrichment, accessibility, lifelong learning, and creative aging. Lucas serves on the American Society on Aging’s Lifetime Education and Renewal Network (LEARN) Council and on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Brewseum. He was a founding steering committee member with the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium and a member of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois Chapter’s Early-Stage Advisory Committee. Lucas co-chairs the Art Institute’s Accessibility Working Group in the Learning and Public Engagement department and was a foundational member of the museum’s interdepartmental accessibility committee. An antiquarian at heart, he received degrees from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago in Ancient Mediterranean Civilization and studied Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. He lectures extensively on aspects of ancient and Asian art and has led international travel programs to Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Turkey, and India. Additionally, in an effort not to be the first one voted off the island, Lucas brews beer inspired by ancient traditions and lectures broadly on beer and brewing from antiquity to modernity…strictly for research purposes. And not to be one-upped by the pace of technology, he is the creator and host of an ancient art history podcast at Lucas’s published research, articles, conference sessions, and webinars can be found at


Jean M. Evans, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Oriental Institute (PhD, Art History and Archaeology, New York University)


Please register for the event. Zoom details will be shared with registrants a day prior to the event.