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Success Story: Practicum Paves the Way for MA in Arts Leadership Alumna

Olivia Howell-Wilson (MAAL ’16) promotes STEM at the Children’s Museum of Houston.

Olivia Howell-Wilson (MAAL 2016) always knew she wanted to promote arts education, but she wasn’t quite sure what form her passion would take as a career. After earning her bachelor’s degree in art history, the Dallas native embarked on her journey into graduate school at the University of Houston. Intrigued by the burgeoning Masters of Art in Arts Leadership (MAAL) program—an immersive graduate program in the UH Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts (CotA)—she was excited to see what doors would open for her.

 “I was looking for a master’s program that incorporated business with the arts,” she said, noting that CotA’s emphasis on local art professionals caught her attention. “I was really looking forward to building a network in Houston.”

As Howell-Wilson worked through the program, learning about topics from administration to marketing, her path became clearer and she honed in on middle school arts education and outreach.

“A lot of kids have a hard time in middle school and I think it would be great for them to have some more opportunities in the arts,” she said.  “I wanted to help give them a place to express themselves.”

Encouraged by the program’s director, Fleurette Fernando, Howell-Wilson connected with the Children’s Museum of Houston for her practicum, a requirement similar to an internship that provides on-the-job training. As the Museum’s Spotlight Arts Intern, she was responsible for scouting and managing talent for the Museum’s Spotlight Performances, which include theatre, dance and live music.

“I got to do a little bit of everything. I was helping manage [teenage] actors, doing stage tech and collecting data about the performances to figure out what was most successful,” she recalled. 

The practicum truly paved the way for Howell-Wilson’s future. Just as it was wrapping up, a full time position as the coordinator for the Chevron-Houston Texan’s STEM Maker Challenge opened on the Museum’s education team. Howell-Wilson said she jumped at the opportunity.  “There wasn’t another job at the museum that felt like such a good fit!”

The Chevron-Houston Texan’s STEM Maker Challenge is an online competition that invites middle school teachers to submit hands-on science, technology, engineering and math lesson plans to encourage students’ creativity and inventiveness. Howell-Wilson is in charge of developing a database of the submissions that will serve as a resource for local teachers. She also manages the Children’s Museum’s Chevron and Houston Texan’s Maker Annex, which offers middle and high school students a place to engage in hands-on experimentation and creation. The Maker Annex houses 3D printers, laser cutters, woodworking tools, and robotics equipment. Every month, Howell-Wilson and her team of Maker Corps Members—many of whom are UH students—introduce a new hands-on project that contributes to the Maker Movement.

“This month, we’re doing a nail and string woodworking workshop,” she said, holding up a small board with string wrapped around carpenter nails in the shape of Texas. “Next month, we’ll be making operation games so students can learn how circuits work.”

Howell-Wilson said feels like she has come full circle. Not only does she have the chance to apply her leadership skills, but she also gets to see children engaging with her projects in real time. “They get excited about the hands-on projects and that’s so rewarding!”