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Students learn new uses for professional portfolios

Submitted on Tuesday, March 03, 2020

At a professional portfolio workshop held at the Faculty of Information, the Haley Sharpe Design team encouraged students to incorporate skills they might not necessarily consider part of their professional identities into their portfolios.

What are employers looking for? And how can I stand out in a crowd? These are questions at the forefront of many Master of Museum Studies students’ minds as they prepare to move onto the job market.

The Faculty of Information’s Museum Studies Program has partnered with the Toronto office of Haley Sharpe Design (hsd), an international exhibition design firm, to pilot the development of “Professional Portfolios” for the cultural sector. Professional portfolios are a platform for students to illustrate specific skills and talents, augmenting their resumes and cover letters by showing process, decision-making, outcomes, and – most importantly – giving employers a better sense of the whole person.

Carolina Garcia and Dylan Freeman-Grist, two members of the Business Development and Communications team at hsd’s Toronto office, were our partners for the program. Both are familiar with professional portfolios from their own backgrounds in textile and fashion design, and journalism, respectively. They continue to assemble portfolios on a regular basis to communicate with prospective hsd clients. As a result, the pair brought important insights from both sides of the equation: how to use portfolios to secure clients and how, as an employer, they would assess a portfolio.

A group of 14 first- and second-year students applied to be part of the project. They were tasked with identifying their strengths, areas for growth, ideas for incorporating seemingly “unrelated” skills, and experience in at least one mode of storytelling. Their applications could be submitted in words, images, tweets, video or any alternative medium they felt best represented their work and goals.

“We wanted to encourage creativity,” said Museum Studies Program Director and Associate Professor Cara Krmpotich. “Too often, society leads students to believe there’s a straight line between a degree and a job. That’s rarely true. Students were coming to the Program with all kinds of skills, but hiding them, thinking they were not relevant. Photography, sewing, hockey, sign language. These can all contribute richly to a work environment. We wanted to find a way for students to incorporate these skills alongside their course learning, internship experiences and capstone projects into their professional identities.”

Garcia and Freeman-Grist designed an initial three-hour work workshop, focused on the traits of critical thinking, versatility and the ability to collaborate. Idea maps, planning documents and images of recent projects completed by hsd staff served as examples of how to illustrate and articulate these various skills. An inspiring moment for students was seeing PortraitPicker, a digital interpretive tool developed by recent alumna, Hannah Hadfield (MMSt ’18), alongside her project team while still in the program. Today, Hadfield works as an interpretive planner at hsd along with another alumna Orysia Goddard (MMSt ’13).

“In the cultural fields we recognize the increasing need for multidisciplinary skills and consequentially, more and more, portfolios are being used by various cultural practitioners while job searching or networking where, in the past, a CV may have sufficed,” notes Garcia. “It was thrilling to collaborate with the Faculty of Information to work alongside their talented students to explore and develop new practices and ideas in and around this emerging trend.”

After the initial workshop, students had three months to develop their portfolios before submitting them to mentors at hsd, who are  reviewing them and will provide one-on-one feedback. First-year MMSt student Melissa Mertsis observed, “I learned to shift my focus from projects I’ve done in the past to the skills I learned from them. The Portfolio project highlighted what employers are looking to learn from these documents, which will be valuable when I am applying to jobs in the museum sector next year.” Mertsis’ classmate, Jordan Vetter, also participated in the pilot. For her, it was rewarding “to receive insights from museum professionals on skills that are valued.” In addition to seeing the bigger picture of the field, Vetter said she learned a lot about herself, and how to effectively communicate her skills and experience.

An event to showcase the students’ portfolios for the Faculty of Information community and our cultural sector partners is planned for Thursday April 16th! Stay tuned!

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