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Faculty Spotlight: Jessica Luke

By Linda Lee

Growing up, the slightest age difference could make a world of difference. I remember looking at students a few grades above me in middle school and swearing they already wore the fatigue and facial hair of tax paying adults. The age gap shrinks as we all walk in tandem towards earlier bedtimes, excessive vitamin consumption, and crippling hangovers, and suddenly, we enter grad school and speak to our professors on a first name basis. The beauty of this level playing field is it breaks down socially prescribed barriers and gives us the opportunity to connect as mature individuals. And what’s more mature than talking about DIY and poutine?

This post is a part of our Museology Faculty spotlight series, but with a twist! This spotlight consists of an interview with Jessica Luke, our fearless director with a quick wit and sense of humor that is pee-pants level hilarious. To compress our multiple hour interview into a palatable format, the questions and answers have been edited and summarized to give you the spark notes version of what would otherwise be a JRR Tolkien saga:

So, exactly how Canadian are you? Do you own a bunch of flannels? How much do you love poutine?

So, both my husband and I are Canadian and my kids have Canadian citizenship, though they were born here. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Canada and now I’ve spent the last 27 years here. So, yes, I have a deep Canadian core that involves things like flannel and calling a winter hat a “toque”. I have eaten way more poutine than a person should admit and have VERY strong feelings about how it’s made. Here in Seattle, there’s an awesome bar called the Angry Beaver that Angie and I used to go to quite a bit. We would partake in Canadian beer and poutine.  

Speaking of food, what meal would you pick if you were on your deathbed?

Honestly, I would probably eat crappy Kraft Mac and Cheese. Not even the good stuff like Annie’s, I want old school Kraft with the gross orange stuff. I’m a purist, so no Vienna sausages or toppings.

Barring the last couple of years, do you visit your family in Canada often? 

We usually go every year or every other year. My grandfather built a cottage that’s in the middle of nowhere and you can only get there by boat. The whole family usually goes up for a couple of weeks at a time. It’s like one step up from camping, basically. We rarely shower, just swim in the lake. You never see any cars. It’s just fantastic.

Has the separation been rough for your family?

My kids are growing up so fast and my parents are getting older. I know it’s only been a couple of years, but a lot can happen in that time. I just really, really hope the world opens back up in the next few months. I feel like we all just really need that.  

Do you get to rest over the summer?

Rest for me takes different forms, as I don’t sit still very well. This summer, I’m going to Copenhagen for five weeks with my family and am conducting a research study on museums and wellbeing while we’re there. I’ll be collecting data at a few different Copenhagen museums and then analyzing that data. It’s a mix of work and play, but the work is stuff that I really love and am interested in. We are also big campers, like last year, we rented an RV with friends and went to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and did that full thing. We are also big DIY-ers and every summer we will usually work on some sort of project, just getting our hands in and making something that didn’t exist before.

Collage of photos with Jessica and DIY projects.

What do you do in your free time? 

I love being outside. For covid, we got so sick of walking around our same neighborhood, so we started doing this thing where we pick different neighborhoods and walk around, then go out for lunch. The lunch is how I bribe my kids into coming on the walk, because they’re teenagers. We have friends that we do a game night with. And we have a hot tub and it’s my therapy. My son [Max] is learning to drive, so we spend a lot of time driving and it absolutely freaks me out. 

How have you found being a mom and having this background in child development for your dynamic?

I feel like there have been times when it has been very beneficial, and other times it has been an occupational hazard. It has served me well with them now as teenagers to remind myself that I might expect something and they might seem, from my perspective, so self-centered, but I know that there is a biological reason for that and it’s just a part of their development. I have the occasional thought when reflecting that I could’ve done this or should’ve done that, but it’s all about finding a balance. 

How has the transition to remote learning affected you as a mother and director with so much responsibility? 

You know, when my kids went back to school, I found myself just crying and crying. I think I never really realized how much weight I had on my shoulders worrying about my children’s wellbeing during the pandemic, and then there’s 33 new students and their wellbeing I was concerned about, plus the faculty and staff, and then myself as well. I did not need to carry all of that around, but man it was a heavy weight. Once I set some of it down I realized “Wow, someone else is going to care about my kids’ well being for six whole hours. This is f***ing fantastic!”. It just felt so good to (lovingly) set down some of that responsibility and do a wellness check. 

So, I’ve already compared your role as director as a fairly maternal role, making you the program mom. Does that make Dylan our brother or uncle?

O, I wonder how Dylan would feel about that. He and I are a very different generation, which definitely makes him a younger member of the family. He has such an awesome way of connecting with the students and making them feel supported. I just love it. 

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is assessment when there are criticisms. Sitting with that pain and initial reaction is really hard to do. I’m worried we haven’t created enough incentive in people’s lives to do that. The intention of assessment is to help with growth, but if you can’t hear what I’m saying, then it doesn’t help you or me. I have definitely found over the last couple of years during covid that it has been hard to both give and receive feedback.