Megan Hahin, ’11: The Importance of Internships
A field placement at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo, N.Y., opened the door for a career path Megan Hahin, ’11, didn’t even know existed.
“I originally wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I was going for history, and I was encouraged by my professors to do internships. Niagara’s really great about making sure you are aware of those opportunities. I got placed at the Theodore Roosevelt site in Buffalo and was working with their collections, and I fell in love with the museum atmosphere. It was just really exciting to actually get to hold artifacts and read letters from the family that lived in that house.”
That experience convinced her to continue her education in museum studies. After earning her master’s degree in 2013 from Buffalo State College, she obtained a job as curator of the Steel Plant Museum of Western New York, a small museum that interprets the region’s steelmaking history, including Bethlehem Steel’s Lackawanna plant, Republic Steel, Hanna Furnace, and other local companies.
Hahin was responsible for rotating two exhibits each year and securing speakers for the museum’s First Wednesday Speaker Series. She also organized the museum’s first Steel Fest, an initiative that attracted a younger audience and helped the museum to launch a new logo and create new gift shop merchandise, which became an additional revenue stream.
In 2015, Hahin accepted the position of education director at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, N.Y., the site of the original 19th century factory that made state-of-the-art rides until 1955 when the company moved to Buffalo. The museum offers exhibits and vintage displays, two wooden carousels with band organs, a Kiddieland Testing Park where children can ride restored attractions from the 1950s, and a Children’s Gallery that offers interactive learning activities. About 1,500 guests visit the museum each year, some from as far away as Australia and Switzerland.
Hahin liked the idea of using the amusement industry in education, especially in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). She developed activities to help children learn about simple machines, like scavenger hunts to find the gears, levers, wheels, and axles that were important parts of carousel manufacturing. Later, she added a workshop component to her lessons so that children could build their own miniature moving carousels. She also did lessons on coding, using the band organs located in the museum, which operate using an early form of coding.
Her innovative programming earned her several awards, including the Engaging Communities Award from the Museum Association of New York, the Daniel B. Niederlander Award from the Buffalo History Museum, and the Excellence in Collaboration Award from the Erie County Association of School Boards.
Hahin loved what she was doing and especially enjoyed working with the volunteers, who number around 30. Seeing their passion for the museum inspired her to apply for the position of executive director so that she could grow as the museum did. She was named to that position in August 2018.
As executive director, her focus has shifted from planning the programming to finding the funding to support it.
“It’s definitely a change,” she admitted. “I do our grant writing for the museum, and then fundraising is another component. It’s really just steering the ship for the museum at this point, figuring out what direction we’re looking to go in and then organizing all that to make sure that we’re able to do it.”
She appreciates the help she receives from the volunteers—“Without them, we couldn’t exist,” she said—and from her colleagues in the community.
“I don’t have much experience being a fundraiser, and I’m still learning that component,” she said. “But Western New York is such a great community for that, because there are so many other professionals in the field who are willing to take the time to help you and give you advice.”
Her Niagara education also gave her a good foundation in lifelong learning, she added.
“Niagara taught me how to be a good student and to always be learning,” she said. “I think that’s really helped me. I’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of the educational programming for young professionals in the area, and I’m not afraid to do that because I know that I have room for growth. I think that was a huge part of being at Niagara—my professors made me feel that it was okay not to know everything, and that in the classroom, that was what I was there to do, to learn.”
One of her first accomplishments as executive director was securing a grant from the Ralph Wilson Foundation to bring on a second educator to start a summer camp program, which began in July 2019.
“That was something that I was really passionate about,” she said, “and it was very exciting to know that other people were buying into the vision that I saw and wanted it to come to life.”
Another part of Hahin’s vision for the museum includes breaking ground on a new space for the museum’s band organs this fall.
“The Music Room project will give us the space needed to display our band organ collection and equipment used to make music rolls for the organs,” she explained. “This collection is still in use, and the museum operates the equipment to make rolls for customers around the world with Wurlitzer band organs. We are the only organization to own the Wurlitzer equipment to make music rolls. The exhibit will give a history of band organs in Western New York and why they are so important to our region.”
Slated to open in the summer of 2020, the additional space aligns with Hahin’s desire to see the museum grow.
“I want to see us do more with our educational programming and offerings, and see more families in Western New York utilize us as a resource,” she said.