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Creating a Culture of Evaluation – Sena Dawes (Alumni Spotlight)

Sena Dawes (Class of 2016) is the Manager of Institutional Evaluation at the Missouri Historical Society. Prior to taking on her current position, Sena had served as their Coordinator of Evaluation & Audience Development. As an exemplar of our specialization in evaluation, we reached out to Sena to learn more about the storied career she has built for herself and how her experiences in the UW Museology Graduate Program have helped her along the way.

Sena was attracted to the Museology program because of the flexibility of the degree and its unique offerings in visitor study.  “Museology stood out because it was one of the few that didn’t do clear specialization tracks and the curriculum included evaluation,” she recalled, “Something I didn’t know about and not something I saw when looking at other programs.” It was this flexibility and interdisciplinarity that drew her to museums in the first place.  “I’m someone who didn’t have a great sense of what I was interested in or good at so naturally I thought a Master’s degree in museums was a brilliant idea,” she explained. “You can’t get more general or all-encompassing than a museum, right?” 

While attending UW, Sena maintained her desire to learn a little bit of everything. “Spending two years talking and thinking about museums non-stop is a great thing for one’s museum career,” Sena told us about her time in the Museology program. “Being able to study everything museums and learn about what museums have been, what they are, and what they could be is an experience that carries me through my actual museum career.” At the same time, evaluation continued to appeal to her, and she took the opportunity to try something new. “The evaluation specialization took me from having no clue to what evaluation even was to being someone who does it full-time!” she explained, adding that, “doing coursework in actual museums was an invaluable experience that gave me a fairly accurate taste of what working in museums might be like.”

This mix of the specialized and the general is something that Sena reports has been valuable to her throughout her career. “Even though I was specializing in evaluation, I was able to take classes in many other museum areas,” she said, “This holistic way of learning is really what set me up the best to work in an actual museum. As museum professionals, we very rarely ever do just one job and work in a vacuum. In order for me to be effective in my work, I have to know how education works, exhibits, collections, marketing, and any other department works. Museology taught me how to think of museums as a whole and how to think about every aspect of museums—it’s that way of thinking that has really helped me be successful in my work today.” She also notes that the program helped her develop a network of museum professionals all across the country.

After graduating, Sena became the first in-house evaluator for the Missouri Historical Society. In the course of her work there, she has made great strides in creating a culture of evaluation in the museum. One example of this, she noted with pride, was her development of the Awesome Cart of Evaluation (or ACE for short), which makes evaluation more accessible to her coworkers and helps them integrate it into the visitor experience. She has also been very active in the Visitor Studies Association, presenting and helping to coordinate the annual conference and serving on the membership communication committee.

Naturally, we are delighted to see our graduates flourish like this, and we are proud to have helped her along her way. When asked what she would tell prospective students is the greatest benefit of attending the Museology program, Sena pointed to “the incredible amount of opportunities to work, intern, or volunteer with amazing local institutions of every discipline is a testament to the beautiful city you’ll get to live in and the fantastic relationships UW Museology has with its cultural and heritage organizations.” We here at the UW Museology Graduate Program look forward to seeing what other exciting personal and career accomplishments lie in the future, for Sena and for all our graduates!