Meet the Museum: Frederick S. Upton Fellow

January 29, 2016 2:38 pm Published by

Welcome to Meet the Museum, our blog series where we meet the staff of The Heritage Museum and Cultural Center and find out what it’s like to work in a museum.

Three weeks after launching our blog, we could not be more excited about the response we’ve gotten from our readers!  Thank you to everyone who has read, shared, and “liked” our first few posts! It is our goal to keep bringing you interesting content on all the workings of the Heritage Museum, and we want to hear from YOU on what you’d like to see on the blog!

With that in mind, we want to use this week’s post to introduce you to the staff member behind most of our blog posts.  Claire Herhold is a native of Hartland, Michigan and is currently working on her PhD in Public History at Western Michigan University.  Claire works at the Heritage Museum three days per week in her position as the Frederick S. Upton Fellow.

Frederick S. Upton Fellow Claire Herhold in the research library of the Heritage Museum

What exactly does it mean to be the Frederick S. Upton Fellow? 

The Frederick S. Upton Fellowship is a bit like a competitive scholarship which is available to PhD students studying Public History at Western Michigan University. This fellowship takes the place of the teaching responsibilities I would otherwise have at the university.  In addition to my academic work, this fellowship lets me have real world, hands-on experience in many different aspects of working in a museum.

The Frederick S. Upton Fellowship is made possible by the generosity of the Frederick S. Upton Foundation.  It’s an incredible opportunity and one of the reasons I wanted to attend Western Michigan University for my graduate work.

What is your favorite part of your fellowship?

Getting to learn about a new area of Michigan history!  I’ve been lucky enough to work at museums all around the state during the past 10 years, but I’d never spent much time in Southwest Michigan until I moved to Kalamazoo.  After only four months at the museum, I’ve really fallen in love with the people and history in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor.  For example, did you know that St. Joseph was the site of one of the first lighthouses on Lake Michigan? How cool is that?!

What is the most challenging part of your fellowship?

The most challenging part of the fellowship is balancing my work as a PhD student with my work at the museum. I get excited about all the wonderful things happening at the Heritage Museum when I’m here, but just as excited about my coursework and dissertation research when I’m back at school!  It’s a balancing act to stay organized and productive when I’m passionate about so many different things.  I’m pretty lucky to have that problem!

How did you get interested in museum work?

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to work in museums!  My parents took me to museums and historic sites when I was a very little girl, so my favorite memories equated fun with museums and learning.  When I was nine, my mom helped me answer an ad in the newspaper for docents at our local historical society.  Obviously I couldn’t volunteer by myself, so my mom came with me and we created a few exhibits together.  I think those two things – early exposure and constant support from my family – were key in helping me not only love museums, but start to consider them as a viable career.

I’m interested in working in museums too.  Do I have to go to graduate school?

No!  A great way to get your feet wet working in museums is by volunteering – and that’s open to everybody!  Especially in small museums, experience and local knowledge can be more valuable than a degree.  There are more and more museum-oriented programs of study at the undergraduate level, so now you can get that specific training with a Bachelor’s degree instead of a Master’s.

However, Master’s degrees are still considered the field standard in many places, especially at larger museums.  There are so many to choose from!  You can pursue a graduate degree or certificate in Public History, Historic Administration, Museum Studies, Archival Science…the list goes on.  No matter what program you choose, it’s important to pair academic work with quality experience.

What do you think makes the Heritage Museum such a special place?

Along with its commitment to preserving and presenting our past, the Heritage Museum always keeps an eye toward the future.  As an institution, HMCC is deeply concerned with how we can serve the community today and how our history can make us stronger tomorrow.  I think that spirit of service and innovation makes the Heritage Museum a very special place.

If you have ideas or questions you’d like to see in a future blog post, please e-mail Claire at or call (269) 983-1191.  Don’t forget to like us on Facebook to get notifications about new blog posts!