Learning Lessons

Engaging Our University Community

By: Anne Tiballi, Sabirah Mahmud, Zahra Rice and Sophie Roach

Originally Published in 2021

View PDF

Jazz Combos

Student Exhibition Interns Explore Jazz Past, Present, and Futures

WHEN PENN CLOSED ITS CAMPUS in March 2020, the Museum was two weeks away from opening the sixth annual student exhibition, Living with the Sea: Charting the Pacific. Though Living with the Sea eventually opened in August, plans for launching the next student exhibition for the Year of Jazz were thrown into chaos.

Dr. Guthrie Ramsey and Bridget Ramsey playing a piano together.
Dr. Guthrie Ramsey and Bridget Ramsey

The Student Exhibition Program connects three undergraduates with an academic advisor and Museum staff to create a small exhibition tied to the Provost’s annual theme. In past exhibitions, students explored the health impacts of corn agriculture, the archaeology of ancient Cyprus, and the power of objects to convey stories and ideas. Interns dive into the Museum collections, distill their research into concise exhibit labels, and weigh the design impact of fonts and background colors. They leave with practical curatorial experience and a deep understanding of their subject. The interns for the Year of Jazz exhibition were chosen for their love of jazz and ability to think critically about a musical form deeply connected to anthropological issues central to the Penn Museum: communication, heritage, connection, and diversity. The interns embraced the shift to virtual programs, learning how to create mini documentaries and conduct pre-recorded and live interviews with panels of experts they had selected. The result was Jazz Combos, a three-part series using jazz as a lens to examine family, protest, and creativity— and explore how music is both deeply universal and culturally specific.

In the first, “Multigenerational Music,” senior Jessica Greenup interviewed Dr. Guthrie Ramsey, a
professor in Penn’s Music Department and jazz scholar, and his daughter, singer/songwriter Bridget Ramsey. Using clips from music videos produced by The MusiQ Department and home recordings of family jam sessions, Jessica explored how love of music is passed between generations. In the live conversation that followed, the Ramseys shared stories of first recitals, the difficulties of being professional musicians, and connecting with your loved ones through music.

Screenshot of a zoom call between three people.
Coby Haynes (top left) with Dr. Nicole Mitchell (top right) and Dr. Ingrid Monson

“I APPLIED FOR THIS INTERNSHIP purely based on the fact that I love jazz music and it has been an integral part of my life for a long time. This experience reminded me that no matter how well we believe we know something, there is always more we can learn about it. I was able to grow as a musician, a scholar, and a member of a creative problem-solving team. We turned the exhibition internship on its head. My fellow interns and I had to delve into a world of video editing and interviewing that we all had zero experience in, but I loved getting to learn and create something entirely new.”

Jessica Greenup, C’20
An MRI in process and an overhead view of hands playing the piano.
Dr. Roger Beaty analyzing an MRI (top) and Dr. David Cutler.

The second Jazz Combos program explored the relationship between jazz and protest. Senior Coby Haynes wove footage of the 2019 Black Lives Matter protests in Center City Philadelphia throughout interviews with and performances by Dr. Ingrid Monson and Dr. Nicole Mitchell. Coby, a music major and drummer with roots in the Baltimore and DC punk scenes, connected the feelings of disempowerment and hopelessness experienced by students during the COVID-19 pandemic with those felt by participants in other forms of social struggle. The panelists explored how jazz can be used to create alternate realities and soundscapes that suggest more hopeful futures.

The final session brought together a neuroscientist and a classically trained musician to delve into the ways that music, particularly improvisation, is linked to creativity. In “Pushing the Limits,” junior Suzanne Carpenter led Dr. Roger Beaty and Dr. David Cutler through an exploration of human cognitive potential, the social and psychological contexts necessary for creative expression, and the power of early musical training to drive personal and academic potential.

Though it will not appear in the galleries, the 2020–2021 Student Exhibition Program has had lasting effects on the interns who poured their own souls into Jazz Combos. Their passion and hard work have shown the potential of jazz to cross academic, social, and cultural boundaries and bring people together, even when we had to be apart.


“THOUGH I DIDN’T KNOW IT when I applied, the Student Intern program was exactly what I needed. This project gave me a chance to be heard and to make a difference. Despite not having prior experience with programming, hosting interviews, and directing documentaries, having the trust and support of my colleagues and the Museum gave me the confidence and freedom to believe in myself and my own ideas. We faced a few obstacles in working on this project, but at the end of the day, each obstacle proved to be yet another opportunity for us to grow personally and professionally.”

Coby Haynes, C’21


“BY ENTRUSTING ME with various leadership roles, the Penn Museum helped me to grow personally and professionally. I found myself pushing various kinds of limits, interviewing panelists, moderating a conversation, and undertaking my first significant video editing project. “Pushing the Limits” was particularly relevant to me since the series fused my passions for music, education, and community outreach. Next year, I will be finishing a double degree in music and history, with an urban education minor. As an aspiring teacher, I hope to tap into the educational possibilities offered by jazz and music more broadly. “Pushing the Limits” offered unique insights into the ways teachers could use music to engage diverse learners, encouraging experimentation, innovation, and collaboration.”

Suzanne Carpenter, C’22



“Museums Are Spaces for Anyone”

Reflections From Penn Museum Teen Ambassadors

SINCE 2015, the Teen Ambassador program at the Penn Museum has connected teen audiences to the Museum and its resources with the goal of encouraging the next generation of critically conscious adults through an anthropological lens.

October to May, nine Teen Ambassadors meet weekly for two hours to discuss topics important to them. The Am- bassadors connect with Museum and University resources to hold informed conversations where, finally, the Teen Ambassadors create Teen Science Cafés: teen-led events open to all high school students consisting of a lecture and hands-on activity. Our hope is that by giving teenagers the resources and agency to engage with the roots of humanity, they can radically imagine their place in the world.

Kate Moore speaking to three students.
Dr. Kate Moore explains the impact of warming global temperatures on animals at Spilling the Tea on Climate Change Teen Science Café, December, 2018. Teen Ambassadors (left to right) Enya Xiang, Zahra Rice, and Tal Netz examine animal bones for signs of distress.

“After attending the Teen Science Café on genetics, I was immediately interested in the Teen Ambassador Program knowing it was a teen-led organization within a Museum. Traditionally, people have seen Museums as bourgeois—a place where lower- income POC teens like myself do not belong. However, the Teen Ambassadors actively invited teens to be a part of an institution to bring in young adults through open community programming.

From the moment of applying to this very moment four years later of attending our online meetings,
the Teen Ambassadors have made an unforgettable impact on me. Our weekly rotating presentations
have strengthened my research and public speaking skills, and the constant reassurance from our team has allowed me to take these skills beyond the program to my community climate advocacy. I would not be the person I am today if not for this program and the skills I have been able to gain through my involvement.”
Sabirah Mahmud, Teen Ambassador (since 2018), senior (rising college freshman), Academy at Palumbo

Two students presenting.
Above, Teen Ambassadors Sabirah Mahmud and Zahra Rice lead a drawing activity to introduce their Teen Science Café: The Imperial Effect: Human Evolution Explained.

“I became interested in Teen Ambassadors while attending a Science Café last year. After learning about evolution, I immediately texted my mom all the pictures I took and made a plan to join the program.

Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Teen Ambassador. Although it was experienced virtually, I am still able to do everything I was so excited to be a part of: organizing and leading a Science Café, and meeting and speaking with professionals in the anthropology field. I am able to meet with other teens who are interested in the same topics I’m passionate about, gain a better understanding of the city and history around me, and collaborate with people knowledgeable about the Museum. I was always interested in anthropology and culture but didn’t know how to pursue it. Through Teen Ambassadors, I have the resources to learn about subjects I’m fascinated by. I have the opportunity to examine current events and things affecting my own community and use that information to educate myself and all participating Philadelphia teenagers.”
Sophie Roach, Teen Ambassador (since 2020), sophomore (rising junior), the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts

“As a homeschooler and self-directed learner, I was drawn to Teen Ambassadors because I wanted more science to round out my curriculum. When I made the decision to join, I had no idea how invested in the program and the Penn Museum I would become.

I have had the opportunity to learn directly from professionals working in the field—archaeologists
and anthropologists who always encourage us to ask questions and engage with the resources as much as possible. I was looking for science when I became an Ambassador, but have gained so much knowledge regarding colonialism, social justice, and the complicated history and present of museum work.

Before becoming a Teen Ambassador, I was never entirely comfortable walking around galleries like those at the Penn Museum. I felt like I needed a certain level of education to be welcome there. Teen Ambassadors has shown me that the opposite should and can be true; Museums are spaces for anyone who has a desire to learn.
Zahra Rice, Teen Ambassador (since 2018), current junior (rising senior), homeschooled in Philadelphia

Three students standing in front of the Sphinx.
(Left to right) Sophie Roach, Tal Netz, and Zahra Rice.

Cite This Article

Tiballi, Anne, Mahmud, Sabirah, Rice, Zahra and Roach, Sophie. "Learning Lessons." Expedition Magazine 63, no. 2 (August, 2021): -. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/learning-lessons/


This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to digitalmedia@pennmuseum.org.