Breann Young '16 is a KU alumna success story

Breann Young '16 is a KU alumna success story

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Alumni Success Stories

Breann Young '16

Breann Young graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art/Painting, magna cum laude, with minors in art history and chemistry in May 2016.  She now lives and works in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Breann took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about what she's doing now and how Kutztown helped her get there.

Why did you choose Kutztown?
It had everything that I was looking for at the time - a recognized art program, small-to-medium-sized classes, relatively close to home, and a lacrosse program (I played on the team freshman year). I also loved that small-town feel. It was the only school I applied for and it was the best decision I made, honestly. I just knew this was the school I would attend.

How did you select your major?
I knew since I was little that I wanted to go to art school! I didn't want to be an art teacher, art therapist, or a traditional artist, though they all sounded like awesome careers. I wanted to combine my artistic skills with something scientific and that's how I found the museum world. In the back of my mind, I have always loved paleontology and natural history, but I never thought I'd be able to combine both interests so effectively into one career (until now, of course).

What minors did you have and how have those been useful in the professional world?
I had two minors - art history and chemistry. I was interested in pursuing paintings conservation, since it had that artistic and scientific feel that I was going for. I needed a background in art, art history and chemistry to be eligible for graduate programs. Art history was incredibly beneficial; those courses provided me with the critical thinking skills that I often use in the museum setting. Chemistry gave me the instrumentation training and understanding of the interaction of chemicals that I need daily when handling solutions and adhesives. Though I ended up pursuing natural history collections instead, the education and skills I acquired in college easily transferred over, since it is essentially just another category of museum conservation work.

How did you get your job at the Smithsonian and what do you do?
I currently work as a Conservation Technical Services Contractor for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I am hired by different departments to perform conservation treatment and/or collections management on certain collections. Over the past couple of years I've cleaned remains, repaired and rehoused specimens, conducted inventory, cataloged data, performed photo-documentation, supervised interns, assisted curators and collections managers and created scientific illustrations on the side. Right now I'm rehousing and reorganizing the National Parasite Collection for the Invertebrate Zoology department.

I got this position through a series of internships and networking. My first internship was in summer 2014 at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, as a Paper Conservation Intern. I landed that opportunity after applying and conducting an interview over the phone. During my time there, I met Cathy Hawks, the conservator at the Natural History Museum, who offered me an unpaid internship for the following summer. After that internship in 2015, she invited me back for a short winter internship. There, she offered me a paid internship at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute for summer 2016 under the supervision of another preventive conservator. The conservation project I worked on in 2016 was partnered with the Physical Anthropology department, under world-renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Doug Owsley. I performed photo-documentation, conservation cleaning and repair, and rehousing of 17th century human remains for his research. It was substantial, so it wasn't completed during my internship, however, they hired me as a contractor directly after my internship ended in order for me to finish it. The work I performed on this project, with the help of other conservators, will be presented at the International Council of Museums: Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC) conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, later this year. It will also be used as a teaching tool for anthropologists on how to properly handle and care for recently excavated remains.

Since that project, I've acquired different contracts through networking and word of mouth. I was rehired by the Physical Anthropology department to perform similar treatment on 19th century remains, and I was also hired by the Botany department to conduct mold mitigation on some rare specimens. In addition to the parasite project I work on now, I volunteer my time in the Fossil Lab in the natural history museum on the weekends; there, I perform repairs on type and non-type specimens and create scientific illustrations for the Paleontology department.

I've seen almost all of the collections in storage here at the museum, in some way or another.

How did Kutztown prepare you for life after college?
A lot of the skills that I learned in college - my manual dexterity from painting/drawing classes, understanding of chemistry and building skills from sculpture and wood courses - are all things I rely upon daily. One of the other experiences that was significant to my growth was my time as co-director of Eckhaus Gallery, the student-run art gallery on Main Street. This position gave me the social skills, confidence and time-management techniques that were vital to good work ethic and networking for more opportunities here in D.C.

Which professors had the greatest impact on your career?
The two professors that certainly had the greatest impact on me were my English comp professor, William Prystauk, and my art history professor, Dr. Daniel Haxall. Both were instrumental in guiding me to becoming a better professional, whether it be improving my confidence in writing, preparing resumes and internship applications or giving references/connections for career opportunities. I also credit all of the professors in the Art & Art History and Chemistry programs for always being available and ready to help whenever I needed it. I still keep in contact with some professors regularly and visit the university when I can.

How does your major apply to what you do in your work?
At first, I didn't quite know how I would fit into a natural history museum, seeing as I didn't have a biology background. However, as time has gone on, I've noticed that most of the work I do here involves a great deal of manual dexterity, eye for detail and understanding of form - all of which I attribute to my art degree. Having an artistic background, and the ability to think creatively, has certainly become one of my major selling points to different departments because most of the people I work with have scientific backgrounds. I have that unique outlook on things that most in this museum may not have.

What is your favorite memory of your time at KU?
I really enjoyed helping resident artist Mike Covello with his 2015 installation in the Marlin and Regina Miller Gallery, located in the Sharadin building. Lots of late nights and fun times while building that creation. Actually, now that I think about it, just being in Sharadin at night was a lot of fun! I really enjoyed being around creative minds, playing good music, and bouncing ideas off of others. It was really relaxing and unfortunately I don't know if I'll ever have an experience like that again. One of a kind.

What would you tell a prospective student who is considering choosing KU?
Ask questions. Inquire about careers and opportunities, even if you're not sure what to pursue. Also, most opportunities do not fall in your lap, so take advantage of every tool you have (whether it be your professors, bosses or their connections). KU has amazing resources that are ready to help you with whatever you're looking for. Remember: internships are for figuring out not only what careers you like, but what aspects you don't like, too. You get out of your education what you put in. I also follow the rule of "throwing everything at the wall" and at some point, something WILL stick. I got rejected from different museums and internships many times, but I stuck with it and kept trying. Thankfully, that hard work paid off and I have the experiences to prove it.