The Department of Art Education is proud to congratulate Florida State alumni, Kathryn Douglass on her recent promotion to the Senior Campaign Coordinator position at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Though Kathryn has been very busy preparing for her new position, we were thrilled when she agreed to participate in an email interview to include in this week’s blog, highlighting her career since graduating from Florida State!
We have included the interview questions and Kathryn Douglass’ responses below
Did you ever imagine obtaining the position that you have today?
I never thought about a career in Development until I was formally introduced to it in graduate school. Through my experience on the FSU Equestrian Team in undergrad, I was introduced to strategic Development when we worked with Development officers from the FSU Foundation after receiving donations. But it was really after I took a fundraising course in grad school that I realized this was a potential career opportunity, both within the world of museums/arts organizations and nonprofits as a whole. It’s fascinating to learn more about this world each day and it’s still surprising how many career paths just within Development there are.
What opportunities did you pursue that led to your current occupation?
While at FSU, I had several internships that helped me figure out what I enjoyed doing. For instance, my first internship was in the research library at The Uffizi in Florence. While it was an incredible experience I’ll never forget, I realized that library science just wasn’t my thing. While interning at the Council on Culture and Arts (COCA) I learned about online marketing, which later proved helpful in my roles at the Garden. I also spent nearly three years at Pebble Hill Plantation with mentors that allowed me to gain a wealth of experience in several different museum areas. I discovered I loved things like designing membership programs and planning events but wasn’t as keen on registrar work. All of these internships gave me firsthand experience at different organizations, were definitely helpful when I interviewed for jobs, and provided me with skills I use every day in my current role.
How did you become involved with Brooklyn Botanic Garden initially? Why were you attracted to this organization?
Since I’m from Florida originally and don’t have much of a horticultural background, I’d never really heard of BBG before applying for my first position as Major Gifts and Special Events Associate. But I thought the job description sounded great, I love nature, and knew BBG was a museum – just focused on plants instead of art. After researching and visiting the Garden, I was very drawn to BBG’s strong community engagement, education programs, and the fact that it’s a (rare!) 52-acre green space right in the middle of 2.5 million Brooklynites. The passion and enthusiasm people have for this place was contagious and inspiring, too.
Coincidentally, I applied for my first position at BBG a month or so before even moving to the City and didn’t hear anything until my first week there. I moved in that weekend and received a call that Monday morning asking if I wanted to interview! I guess it was fate. I remember leaving my first interview with the feeling that it just felt right for me. Now two years later, I see that I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fit at this point in my career.
What unique abilities/traits do you possess that gave you an advantage when pursuing this position?
After assuming my first position at BBG, my supervisor mentioned that I had been up against some stiff competition, even some people that had more experience. When I asked why she selected me, she said a lot of it came down to my personality and how well I fit in with their team. She was impressed by my ability to bring different personalities together and how I could be adaptable to different kinds of work styles. In terms of being promoted into my current position, I supposed one advantage was that I had the tenacity to go after a position I wanted and felt was a good fit for both me and the organization. I spent my first two years working hard and constantly trying to make myself indispensable and I think that paid off. My new director recognized my strengths, even some I didn’t realize she was aware of, and think she knew my skillset would suit the position well.
Did any particular experience in the FSU program give you provide you with the tools you needed to lead you to this career path?
Having several cultural/museum-related internships/part-time jobs under my belt allowed me to gain invaluable work experience that employers wanted to see. It was also helpful having a range of internship responsibilities to show versatility and interning at one of the museums for nearly 3 years allowed me to demonstrate dedication and commitment.
My Arts Administration coursework was incredibly helpful in understanding how nonprofits operate which is crucial, especially considering there can be professionals that come into the nonprofit field completely unaware of how things are structured or how funding works. Even though coursework can be theory-based, coupling that with my practical work experience in internships has allowed me to combine both the theory and real life experience on the job.
What was the most important/influential thing that you learned while in school?
I remember my grant writing professor saying “It’s all about relationships!” and that is so incredibly true. Connecting with people and nurturing that relationship is very important, especially on a professional level. Your coworkers, colleagues, and other contacts are all part of your network. It’s important to keep those connections strong and mutually beneficial. Moreover, as much as everyone hates group projects, you have to learn how to work with all kinds of people. Development has shown me the importance of being nice and respectful to everyone in an organization – not just your officemates or the higher-ups, but the custodial and maintenance staff, security guards, caterers, marketing, education and programming staff. In Development, you work with all of these people on a pretty regular basis. They are all your teammates and you can’t accomplish your goals without each other.
In pursuit of your current position, were there any major setbacks that you had to overcome?
Once I decided to move to New York, I started applying for as many cultural/museum-related jobs as I could. I sent out over 80 job applications and received a lot of “thanks, but no thanks” responses. It can really knock you down when you’ve worked so hard through school, part-time jobs, and extracurriculars so you could stand out on an application only to be passed over. It’s even more difficult to swallow when you make it to the final group of candidates, think you’ve had the best interview of your life, and still receive that soul crushing “we were very impressed…but have decided to go with another candidate” response.
It can also be hard when you are still young in your career. I know that – I’m still new! You come in, especially fresh out of school, with excitement and wanting to prove yourself and have a voice. You’re following your dream and finally landed the job you wanted and are ready to tackle anything! But then, you’ve got to pay your dues. You’re the low man (or woman!) on the totem pole. That’s when drive and enthusiasm is important to keep with you – especially on the days when you can’t possibly imagine doing another mail-merge, or on the nights when you question why you got a master’s degree when you’re running up and down stairs while checking people’s coats at an event (and you don’t remember seeing that on your job description!). But like the quote says, “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”
Do you have any advice for students or professionals who might desire to follow in your footsteps?
Be open to learning from those who’ve been around longer than you have. It can be challenging when you come in with all this education and internship experience and having to admit that you still don’t know how to do a lot of things. But you realize that it’s okay to not know things and you learn to be up front about that because more often than not, your colleagues understand and are willing (if not flattered, even) to help you learn! They’ve also been in the organization longer than you have, and can teach you the ins and outs that aren’t covered in the employee handbook but are invaluable to success in your job.
Moreover, you’ll realize that no job is going to be perfect – not even your dream job. There will be days when you want to scream and then go home and eat an entire pint (or two!) of ice cream. But, there will also be days when you’re so unimaginably happy and can’t believe how lucky you are to be doing something you love so much. Even if you don’t feel that gratitude in one job or decide that something isn’t fulfilling you the way you thought it would – that’s okay! You’re not stuck with one type of job or even career-path. You can change your mind and try something else. I’m happy working in Development now, but it’s not exactly what I planned to do initially. Will I still be happy 5 years? 10 years? Who knows! Maybe I’ll decide I want to work in programming for a human rights organization or work as a freelance consultant for small arts organizations. Many skills are actually quite transferable to other industries or areas, so don’t be afraid to try something new or make a change to find what you enjoy doing.
What do you hope to do after assuming the position of the Senior Campaign Coordinator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden? Any future plans/goals?
Development offers so much flexibility with what kinds of organizations you work for and I think that kind of freedom is wonderful. My new position lasts through the end of BBG’s Campaign in 2-3 years, so I plan on staying in the City for at least the next few years. After that, I’m really trying to stay open-minded! There’s so many wonderful career opportunities here, but there’s several in other places where I wouldn’t mind living and working, too. We’ll see what the future brings!
We would like to genuinely thank Kathryn Douglass for taking the time to participate in this interview. We are so proud of her success and look forward to hearing about other wonderful things she will be accomplishing in the future.
**All Images were taken by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. To find out more information our to review more about the Brooklyn Botanic Garden- Please check out the following links:
Link to the Garden News blog: http://www.bbg.org/news
Link to the cherry blossom video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-6dQvOSYmI;
Link to the Children’s Garden Centennial celebration: http://www.bbg.org/discover/lets_grow
Link to the President’s Circle blog posts Kathryn used to write: http://www.bbg.org/support/presidentscircle#/tabs-3
The website for BBG’s Capital Campaign: http://nextcentury.bbg.org/.