‘What I Love About the Liberal Arts’ Amelia Lancaster '22 has used her W&L experience to explore a number of interests, ultimately finding a passion in museum studies and Chinese that has allowed her to co-curate a museum exhibition on campus.
“I think one of the great things about W&L is that students have these opportunities to work closely with faculty on research or internships, which for me has helped me gain confidence in my area of study and my own abilities as a researcher and curator.”
~ Amelia Lancaster ’22
Hometown: Jackson, Tennessee
Major: Art History
Minors: Chinese, Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies
Q: What made you decide to attend W&L?
I chose W&L because of its wonderful academics and professors. I knew after visiting and attending a few classes that I could really tap into the knowledge and experiences of my professors in a personal way that larger colleges just couldn’t offer, and it has proven so useful in my four years here. My professors have been so supportive of my interests and have always been actively invested in my success.
What got me to apply is a totally different story. I found out about W&L through my mom when she was telling me about her college application experience and the places she wanted to go. She told me that she remembered applying to W&L, but that she got waitlisted. Being the overachieving child that I was, I decided to apply just for fun to see if I could “beat” her. Once I actually started researching and visited campus, however, W&L became a serious option. And here I am today, so grateful to my mom and our little contest!
Q: You are living proof that it is possible to change majors even after investing significant time in a subject. Why did you choose to switch from economics to art history, and how do your two minors factor into the equation?
I came into college not really knowing what I was passionate about, so I just chose economics as my major initially because it seemed like a solid choice. I’m sure it is a solid choice for plenty of people, but I quickly realized that I didn’t have the right brain for it. One semester, I signed up for Professor Ron Fuch’s Chinese Export Porcelain and Trade class, and that finally showed me what my passion is. I had never taken an art history class, and I was fascinated by all the stories objects can tell once you do a little digging.
My Chinese minor was really useful for the export porcelain class, and it has come in handy for other Asian art classes I’ve taken. Since I want to pursue a career in museum work, I was very excited when I found out there was a minor for museum studies, as well, so I added that to continue those studies. It’s been tricky fitting everything I’m interested in into one program. But that’s what I love about the liberal arts; I was able to pursue all my different passions!
Q: Your first-ever trip abroad was to a pretty spectacular location: China. And you got to go twice! What took you to China on those two occasions, and what did you get out of those experiences?
I love studying foreign languages, and I decided to take Chinese on a whim when I came to W&L. I had heard it was one of the harder languages to learn, so I wanted to challenge myself a bit. After my first year of studying, I fell totally in love with Chinese language and culture, so I took the Spring Term Abroad class to really immerse myself. It was my first time ever leaving the country, so there was definitely a lot of culture shock, but I think the whole experience taught me how to be adaptive and independent. I made so many new friends and improved my language really quickly too.
The second time I went to China was through a CIE summer grant, which allowed me to visit and research with an international student from W&L, Xinxian Wang ’21. We were interested in the gender gap and marriage squeeze that’s affecting China today, so we visited different cities and conducted interviews to learn people’s opinions on contemporary dating and marriage culture. I feel like I became part of her family, and one of my favorite memories is having dinner with her grandparents, when I got to help cook and make dumplings.
Q: Just when you’d decided to take this past summer off to recuperate from pandemic stress, an incredible opportunity fell in your lap. So what did you end up doing over the summer?
My professor who taught the Chinese export porcelain class, Ron Fuchs, reached out to me midway through Winter Term this past academic year with a project that was perfectly suited to all my interests. The Reeves Museum of Ceramics was promised a collection of Chinese export porcelain figures of animals by Felicia Warburg Rogan, and I was invited to co-curate an exhibition of them with Professor Fuchs. The internship perfectly blended my interest in Chinese language and culture with my curatorial ambitions, so it was just too good to pass up.
Curating an exhibition comes with a lot of responsibilities, so I got to try my hand at a lot of different skills: researching, writing interpretive text, talking with donors, and giving tours of the exhibition once it opened. The whole experience solidified in my mind the idea that this is something I could enjoy doing for a long time.
Q: What’s it like to be able to work side-by-side with a faculty member on such an important project?
My favorite part of this internship was the close mentorship I got from Professor Fuchs. He was there to support me every step of the way with advice, experience and stories from his own career. He also made me feel like I was really a co-curator, not just a student intern, which enhanced the professional experience greatly. When the exhibition finally opened in September, it was almost unreal seeing people walking through the space and enjoying the results of our hard work over the summer. It really was a collaborative project that we were both very proud of.
I think one of the great things about W&L is that students have these opportunities to work closely with faculty on research or internships, which for me has helped me gain confidence in my area of study and my own abilities as a researcher and curator.
Q: You played a big role in founding the Library Student Advisory Board and are involved in leadership of the Chinese Language and Culture Club, and you’re still involved in both. What can you tell us about those and your other extracurricular activity, the social research and discussion group?
I worked with Emily Cook and Elizabeth Teaff of the university library to form the Library Student Advisory Board (LSAB) as a way for the student body to have a voice in library affairs. We work to make library spaces and services as helpful and welcoming to students as possible, and we try to get student feedback each semester through study breaks where we hand out snacks and survey students about the library. It’s been a very successful endeavor so far; we’ve improved a lot of signage and furniture and even helped choose the new university librarian!
The Chinese Language and Culture Club is relatively new on campus, and was created by Maria Shaw ’22, Andrea Levan ’22 and myself. We wanted to create a club that would foster fun opportunities for all students to experience and appreciate Chinese language and culture, so we sponsor things like celebrations of traditional holidays, movie screenings and game nights. We recently collaborated with Museums at W&L to host a paper-cutting event in the Watson Galleries to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and promote the Auspicious Animals exhibition.
I am also involved in Professor Marcos Perez’s Social Research and Discussion Group, which is essentially a book club where we read novels that deal with various sociological topics and discuss them over dinner once a month. This year’s theme is graphic novels. My favorite one we’ve read so far is “Maus,” which is the story of a Holocaust survivor told through his son interviewing him.
Q: What are your post-graduation plans?
Though I want to pursue graduate study in art history, right now I am planning to take a year to work or complete a fellowship in order to gain some more experience in the field. My ultimate career goal is to work as a curator for a big museum like the Met. I am also thinking of taking the opportunity to teach abroad in China for a year, to brush up on my Chinese and gain some pedagogical skills that will help me in my museum work as well.
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