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Festa Fellowship recipient puts history degree to work at Safe Haven Museum
June 10, 2013
Zella at Safe Haven Museum in Oswego, N.Y., where he will spend his summer as an intern.
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A SUNY Oswego graduate student will be spending the summer at the local Safe Haven Museum with the help of the Festa Fellowship.

John Zella, a graduate student in the department of history will be working on event planning, social media and museum operations during his summer internship.

The Safe Haven Museum is located near Fort Ontario and received its name after becoming the safe haven for 982 refugees from 18 different countries. It was the only refugee shelter in the United States during the Holocaust.

Zella discusses what Safe Haven was, while looking at the wall where the names of 982 refugees, who took refuge in Oswego between 1944-1946, are listed.

The goal of the museum is to preserve and share the stories of these refugees who survived Hitler’s tyranny.

Zella is looking forward to working in the museum and hopes to pursue a career in a similar position.

While at Safe Haven, Zella will be working in several different areas on multiple projects including planning a reunion for the refugees.

In the spring of 2012, Zella had the opportunity to intern at Fort Ontario and then received a seasonal job there for the summer. The British built the original fort in 1755. Now, patrons can watch reenactments of past battles.

Zella had the experience of being part of the 1812 Symposium, naval reenactments, dressing up in 19th century clothing, and making cartridges for guns from that time period.

Leading to graduate school

Zella became interested in history during middle school where he began getting interested in politics.

“My age group got hit hard with issues. I got really political, but at the same time I could look back and see what has happened.”

According to Zella, historians like to say, “take a look back 30 years and see what has happened because history repeats itself.”

Zella attended SUNY Oswego for his undergraduate work and received a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in Italian.

While at SUNY Oswego, Zella has worked as a Compass Navigator, participated is Student Association, where he was elected as a senator, and helped coach the women’s hockey team.

During his junior year in college, Zella realized he didn’t want to be a teacher because he didn’t like only impacting 1 or 2 students in a classroom.

“I want to be an educator in a sense, but I want to have an impact on those who want to show up and want to know,” Zella said. “Not just take a class because they have too.”

After obtaining his undergraduate degree, Zella decided that graduate school was a necessary option to fine tone his skills and experience as well as get a better understanding of what he wanted to pursue.

Graduate school and beyond

Zella has had the opportunity to gain experience while interning and working at Fort Ontario and now he gets to use those new acquired skills at Safe Haven Museum, where he will again improve his knowledge.

“I want to be an educator in a sense, but I want to have an impact on those who want to show up and want to know,” Zella said. “Not just take a class because they have too.”
Jon Zella
Student, History

This summer, Zella will also have the opportunity to get first hand experience with curating while working in Tyler Hall with Michael Flannigan, assistant director of the Tyler Art Gallery.

Zella will be doing the research and creating the panels for the Dust Bowl exhibit.

In the fall, Zella will be starting an internship at the Onondaga Historical Association, where he will have the opportunity to work on featured exhibits. The internship will span over two semesters.

Zella will gain experience in accessioning artifacts brought to the museum for exhibits and collections, tagging and organizing the artifacts, handling and preserving the artifacts, and setting up and breaking down exhibits.

Eventually, Zella would like to work at a museum, but in a smaller area, larger cities don’t interest him because of the size and environment.

“I would really like to work in a medium size museum where I would have a variety of responsibilities even if the position title is curator or something like that.” Zella said. “It would be nice not to get stuck doing one job.”

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