Alumna, Dr. Megan McCullen

Dr. Megan McCullen at Chaco Canyon World Heritage Site
Dr. Megan McCullen at Chaco Canyon World Heritage Site

We are very proud to announce that our alumna, Dr. Megan McCullen, is the new Director of the Gordon L. Grosscup Museum of Anthropology & Planetarium at Wayne State University. Dr. McCullen’s position was created as a full-time position in 2017 by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Wayne State. Prior to this, a faculty member in the Anthropology Department was the Museum Director in addition to their regular faculty duties, and the Planetarium had a similar set up within the Physics Department. The goal of creating a new position was to have a person who can take the lead on managing the unique resources of the college that are used not only by students, but also by the community.

As Director of the Anthropology Museum and Planetarium, Dr. McCullen fills many rolls as each have distinct missions. Officially, she works for the Dean’s Office, so part of her role as Director is to conceptualize how the public community sees and uses college resources – as well as how the university and departmental communities use these same resources. Her day to day job includes grant writing, working with the college’s advancement team, marketing, developing exhibitions and programming, creating, and maintaining community partnerships, curating the museum’s collection, and supervising student projects in the museum. She also oversees the student employees, who are the only other staff of the museum.

The driving factor of Dr. McCullen’s work is her interest in making the resources of the University more accessible to the community surrounding them. One of her goals is to increase the number of community members coming to campus to visit the Museum and Planetarium, and to bring these resources out into the community as well. Megan has been working to fund programs to reduce barriers to access of the museum. She became interested in this when she began volunteering in museums as an undergraduate and has continued to work in museums and outreach since that time. Her experience curating, cataloging, and researching museum collections in graduate school here at MSU prepared her for her current collections management efforts.

Dr. McCullen’s favorite thing about her job is that she enjoys working with the public and developing new ways to engage communities both on and off campus. The Director position also requires her to learn many new things, like astronomy and the history of her new museum. As an academic these learning opportunities are welcome. Megan also enjoys being in a position to think holistically and broadly about future projects. Part of her role is to think about what they want to be doing five or ten years down the road, what they need to do to get there, and how to collaborate with other sectors of the College and the community to do so. This includes everything from exhibitions to curation plans. She has always been one for thinking about connections and relationships, so she truly enjoys being in a position where building and maintaining these kinds of relationships is an important part of her work.

Megan’s interest in archaeology started in a course in Egyptology. As the class studied pre-dynastic Egypt and she learned about the stone tools ancient peoples made, she became fascinated with how archaeologists decode material culture to understand how past societies lived. This led her to graduate school and she earned her Ph.D. from our department in 2015. Dr. McCullen says that MSU prepared her for her current career connecting her with a job at a cultural center during her first year. Her advisor, Dr. O’Gorman, was on the center’s board and informed her about the job opening which gave her experience in K-12 education and outreach, community partnerships, grant writing and small-scale exhibit development. Her advisor also allowed her to participate in a funded project to re-evaluate a large museum collection, which led to her dissertation project and further research using museum collections. All these wonderful experiences within our department and at MSU offered her the preparation needed for her current Director position.

Dr. McCullen still keeps in touch with her MSU mentors. Last fall, Dr. John Norder rescued her when her car broke down on the highway outside Lansing. “You can’t ask for that kind of help if you don’t keep in touch,” she says. She has called her dissertation co-chairs (O’Gorman and Norder) several times during her first year at my current position seeking advice, and to discuss shared research interests.

Currently, the Gordon L. Grosscup Museum of Anthropology at Wayne State University just opened an exhibit entitled The Secret Life of Things: Sixty Years of Museum Anthropology at Wayne State, which highlights sixty objects from their collections that reflect the breadth and depth of their work. Dr. McCullen invites everyone to come by, say hello and explore their free museum.

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