“Go west, young man” is a quaint idea associated with the outdated concept of manifest destiny, but the basic message was the same when Furman art history professor Marie Watkins spoke to Mary Elizabeth Morse ’15 last school year.
“So many of our students stay on the east coast or in the South, and I love the West,” Watkins, a Greenville native and Furman graduate herself, said. “My research is out there, so I’m always pushing for students to get internships out there, go experience what it’s like, get to know that part of the world. There are so many opportunities.”
This particular one was at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the de Young and Legion of Honor museums, and it came about largely because another of Watkins’s proteges had taken her challenge to switch coasts a couple of years ago. Charlotte Patterson ’11 graduated from Furman with degrees in art history and French, and after landing a job as marketing coordinator with the institution she knew exactly where she wanted to look for her next summer intern.
“The interns that we’ve had in the past were locals for the most part, and I haven’t been impressed with their performance, and I know that my colleagues weren’t totally thrilled with the experience and the amount of commitment they received,” Patterson said. “So I immediately put on my Furman hat and I contacted the alumni coordinator from my sorority (Chi Omega).”
Patterson was put in touch with Morse, a history and art history major, and after a few phone calls she was convinced Morse was the right person and encouraged her to apply. Morse’s brother and wife had recently moved to San Francisco, and coupled with Watkins’s support she went for it.
“A lot of Furman kids don’t really travel a lot, so I thought I’d use the time to do something different,” Morse said. “I would not have done as well or been as excited to come out here if (Dr. Watkins) hadn’t been as encouraging as she was. She was incredible.”
Morse was thrust right into the fire when she arrived for work in June. Her first week included a press preview for a special exhibition, “Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection,” which included a private docent tour led by Harry Cooper, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. That was followed by a board of trustees meeting populated by many of San Francisco’s biggest movers and shakers and a Mad Men-themed gala at the de Young Museum put on by ArtPoint, a young professionals organization.
When the dust settled, she spent the next three months gaining valuable experience coordinating major events to promote the museum and its exhibitions while assisting with administrative duties and honing her computer skills. More importantly, she returned to Greenville with an expanded worldview.
“San Francisco is intense with entrepreneurial spirit. If someone has an idea, they just achieve it with startups and people creating their own organizations. If they want another job, they find it. And if they don’t find it, they create it,” she said. “The drive that is out here has really affected me in a good way. I want to achieve more. I want to do something different. . . It’s inside me to explore options outside of just starting another job.”
Watkins, whose research focuses on a group of late-19th and early-20th-century artists from Taos, N.M., didn’t say I told you so, but the results speak for themselves. Not that she takes that much credit.
“I’ve had both of them since their freshman year, and I’ve helped them with whatever I could throughout their time at Furman,” she said of Morse and Patterson. “I always feel like I get the best students anyway. I’m really, really lucky about that, and Mary Elizabeth is just great. She’s a delightful person. It’s her spirit—she’s ambitious, she’s creative, she works hard, and she’s willing to try things. I thought this would be perfect for her and that she’d fit in out there and be able to handle whatever the de Young would ask her to do.”
Patterson stressed that while she certainly vouched for her, Morse earned the opportunity.
“We courted her from December to April, and finally my boss hired her. And honestly I didn’t have to do a lot to convince my boss to do that. She really stood out in her own application,” Patterson said. “What struck my supervisor, who is pretty hard to impress, is that Mary Elizabeth said ‘I want to be here 40 hours a week.’ No one ever really comes out that committed and wanting to take on that challenge, and her reasoning for wanting to be there 40 hours was to learn what it would be like on a day-to-day basis in a real work setting, which is a huge asset to have in your back pocket when you go to apply for jobs.”
Patterson’s parents are also both Furman alums, and she exudes Paladin pride. San Francisco may not know FU well yet, but she hopes to change that in any way she can.
“This whole area is driving our entire economy right now, so I think it’s a great opportunity to highlight that Furman can extend its reach and provide amazing experiences and opportunities to those who are seeking it,” she said. “(The Fine Arts Museum is) a huge name, and I think it’s really a testament to Mary Elizabeth’s ability she was able to be a fantastic intern and hard worker and a really huge representative of Furman. Obviously when I’m out here no one knows what Furman is . . . It’s been a very refreshing experience to have my co-workers understand what this little place is and what a powerhouse it can be.”
Ironically, Morse herself may also understand the same thing a little bit better than she did a few months ago.
“It shows you that Furman teaches you to be disciplined and to work hard, and I think that’s really what made me successful (there): Thinking big, achieving things, and enjoying the workload because that’s what prepares you for the real world,” she said. “Being Furman students, we all know how hard the university is and the work that it takes to graduate and succeed here. It was huge for Charlotte to reach back when I was very nervous about what my direction was in life and what I was going to do with my summer.
Learn more about Furman’s art history major here.