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Peabody Essex Museum and Salem State team up for Summer Bridge Academy

Posted by Ryan Mooney  July 13, 2012 12:36 PM

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It was just business as usual as 143 Salem State students descended on Peabody Essex Museum this morning for the second week of an exploratory summer course.

The collaborative course between PEM and Salem State - a rousing success in its first year last summer - is part of the Summer Bridge Academy offered to incoming Salem State freshmen.

"The students that they bring us are pretty amazing, and we all really like working with them," said Michelle Moon, assistant director for adult programs at PEM. "They are excited to be in a museum and to spend this much time in a museum, excited to be asked about their response to artwork and get a chance to think and talk about that with people. It's not something everybody has a chance to do at their age."

The Summer Bridge Academy is designed to acclimate incoming freshman to the school, the Salem community, and to offer help to students who feel they need an extra push to succeed in college academics. Most students enrolled in the six-week program live on the university's central campus in Marsh Hall and take four classes per day - for credit - each week, and spend three hours every Friday morning at PEM.

"Some of them may feel they need additional academic support," said Barbara Tierney, a professor in the interdisciplinary studies department at Salem State. "A lot of the students sort of self-choose that this would be a better opportunity...they are unique in that respect, they give up their summer for six weeks to be able to learn the skills and strategies for success in college."

The PEM course has grown significantly since its pilot run last summer, from 114 students last year, and the museum was fully prepared for the increase with a comprehensive plan to not only expose students to art and historical artifacts, but also educate and interact with them as they work toward a themed presentation at the end of the program in August.

All Summer Bridge Academy participants take the course. Students are assigned to groups with nine volunteer docents - all returned from last year - that visit the museums many galleries and houses, and work on related projects.

"They have the same docent every week, so the relationship and the connection starts to build," Tierney said. "They get to know the students by first name, and the students get to become familiar with the docents, so this great relationship evolves."

With the massive exhibition of works by late American photographer Ansel Adams on display and the Year of Photography theme at PEM, students are working on a final project that centers on the photographic themes of power, identity and space.

The museum is home to 800,000 works of photography - the oldest and largest collection in the country according to PEM's senior press officer, Whitney Van Dyke - and 1.8 million total objects. Each student will choose one object that resonates with them personally, and research it for a presentation as their final assignment.

"We're working pretty hard on kind of giving them this idea of you can take an object and look at it a thousand different ways, and the way you look at it is unique to you and your background, and the way you want to interpret that to other people, you own that, that's your idea," Moon said.

Collaboration between two of the largest institutions in the city is nothing new. Salem State faculty members are entitled to unlimited group access to the museum, and museum officials create about a dozen tours each year designed specifically for a class or curriculum. Many students also intern at PEM.

"At any given time there's probably half a dozen Salem State students working in departments in the museum," Moon said.

Ryan Mooney can be reached at globe.mooney@yahoo.com.

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