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Passion and Persistence in the Museum Field – Geoff Nunn (Alumni Spotlight)

Geoff Nunn working with the space shuttle trainer at the Museum of Flight.
Geoff Nunn working with the space shuttle trainer at the Museum of Flight.

Alumni Geoff Nunn (class of 2007) has been making an impact at the Museum of Flight, taking the lead on some of their recent exhibits about the history of space exploration. However, these accomplishments did not come easily, as Geoff struggled to make inroads into full-time museum work at the beginning of his career. But Geoff’s persistence and passion for his work have been paying off as he makes his mark in the museum and aerospace worlds.

Geoff’s passion for the museum field was evident early on during his time in the Museology program when he had the opportunity to intern at the Pacific Science Center (PSC). Through his internship Geoff found himself gaining invaluable experiences and unique opportunities that he otherwise may not have had access to had it not been for the Museology program. “My museology training, and the hands on experience it offered with different collections, often landed me in a position to provide special assistance to the collections managers that traveled with artifact-heavy exhibits. When there were dinosaur bones to assemble, I became their guy.”

After graduating from Museology, Geoff describes his museology career as “having a bit of a bumpy start.” Geoff worked part time in the visitors services department at the PSC during his studies and interned in their exhibits department, which lead to a full-time job upon graduating. PSC created what Geoff describes as a “special hybrid position” between the science interpretations department and exhibits. However, when PSC reorganized in 2008, Geoff was laid off, right in the heat of the recession.

During this time of the recession, it was difficult to find work in museums. Geoff was able to find short-term museum jobs here and there, but the bulk of his work for the next two years would be outside of the museum field. However, Geoff didn’t give up on the museum field. “During my down-time, I did my best to keep my museum chops sharp,” he said. Geoff worked briefly at the Museum of Flight as a summer camp administrator, and was brought back to PSC as a contractor to help with a couple exhibits including Lucy’s Legacy in 2008 and Harry Potter in 2010. He began teaching the SketchUp seminar to the Museology exhibits class, and volunteered at the Issaquah History Museums, helping to develop and install exhibits.

Then, in 2010, Geoff’s persistence paid off, as he was hired as the exhibit developer at the Museum of Flight. As the only exhibit developer at the time, “I got to stretch into a wide variety of exhibit topics,” he said. His first major project came in 2011, when he began work on a four year project to develop the exhibits in the 16,000 square foot Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, centered around the full-sized shuttle trainer from Johnson Space Center. Geoff also had the chance to serve as the primary content developer on the Apollo exhibit earlier this year.His work in developing the Museum of Flight’s space exhibits has also added to his title: Adjunct Curator for Space History. “I have once again found myself in an odd hybrid role,” Geoff says, “working officially for the exhibits department, but also as an adjunct to the collections team as the museum’s resident space expert.”

Geoff describes his role as being unique in building the museum’s connections with the emerging commercial space industry. “In a way, I have been asked to study and curate this aspect of space history as it is being made,” developing exhibits and public programs with people from SpaceX, Blue Origin, the asteroid miners at Planetary Resources, and many more. This has led to some unique opportunities, including being invited to join the U.S.-Japan Space Forum, in an opportunity to engage in space policy discussions at an international level. Geoff will be presenting his work on archiving current happens in space flight at the American Institute of Physics conference this Spring.

Geoff is thankful for the holistic background in museum work that the Museology program provided. “The broad focus of the curriculum helps me to understand the work being done beyond my department and to assist when appropriate,” he said. “There is significant value to having a curator who understands principles of informal, free-choice learning, or an exhibit developer who considers the sensitivities of different artifacts when selecting them for display.” While he admits that there is an initial shock working in a museum, whose day-to-day reality can be different than the “Platonic Ideal of museums” that you learn about in graduate school, he encourages future museology students to “take heart that the fundamental understanding of museums you receive in the program will be absolutely invaluable to your work, and you will help steer the institutions you work at closer to that Museological Ideal.”

Hannah Pfaltzgraff, Museology Communications Assistant