Alumni Profile: Life After Inly for Ava Vitali

The Inly Development Office recently caught up with Ava Vitali (Inly School ’98, Thayer Academy ’02, and New York University ’06 and ‘09) to learn about her internship at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Ava’s path to her current field shows how Inly students turn their love of learning into a lifelong pursuit.

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Q: Describe your internship.

Ava: I currently work in two different functions in the museum. I work as a curatorial intern in the Art of the Ancient World Department three days a week. I also am working for Member and Visitor Services, which is working front lines with the public and members—including general museum information, public programs, courses and lectures, group visits, joining the museum, and even selling admission.

Q: Describe a typical day for you at the museum.

As an intern, my days vary a lot. I am basically there to fill any role the department might need. I have been involved in everything from new gallery installations and organizing academic symposiums, to brushing the dust off busts of Hadrian in the gallery.

Q: What is one of the best things about your work?

I spend one day a week dedicated to working for the Giza Archives, a separate project here at the museum. In this capacity I work down in the storeroom with objects for five hours every Wednesday, and I couldn’t be happier. I really enjoy working with objects, whether monumental or small every day things. I spend most of my time trying to solve issues with our data and databases by referencing both archival material and the objects themselves.

Also, being at the museum at the same time as the major exhibition, The Secrets of Tomb 10A (which is Egyptian material), has been really rewarding for me. The show has just been extended to June 27, because it is so popular. I already had a few classes from my high school, Thayer Academy, come back and tour the show with me; it is nice to meet with people who remind you of yourself at that age. I am looking forward to Inly’s visit.

Q: How did you get interested in Egyptology?

My mother is an artist and we spent a lot of time at the MFA when I was young. I was always drawn to the Egyptian galleries. I guess you could say it was in my blood though, because both my mother and grandmother had an appreciation for Egyptian art. I was always interested in Egyptology and archaeology throughout childhood and into high school. It wasn’t until I went to college, though, that I really realized I could study Egyptology professionally, rather than just as a casual interest.

Q: What was your educational/career path to this field?

Once I realized I wanted to focus on Egyptology/Archaeology in college, I had to create my own major. Even though we had two Egyptologists teaching 12 different undergraduate Egyptology classes at NYU, there was no official undergraduate major. So I had to petition the dean to get credit, and for other things, like getting Hieroglyphs counted as fulfilling the language requirement and getting my excavation experience counted for credit. In the end I was successful, and ended up also double majoring and getting a degree in Anthropology/Classics as well.

I went on to graduate school at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, and completed my Master’s Degree in Art History and Archaeology in 2009. After that, I knew I wanted to move back home to the Boston area, and started looking for opportunities in the Egyptology field around here. It’s such a competitive field, with so few openings, that I got lucky to connect with the people here at the MFA, especially when they had a major exhibition opening.

Q: How did your time at Inly prepare you for this work?

I was really encouraged during my time in elementary at Inly to pursue the subjects that interested me—this was great because it happened to coincide with our Ancient History units, and I really got to research and explore the ancient world in a way that wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere. Also, I think the Montessori education requires a certain amount of independence and academic ambition—both attributes that you need to be successful in the competitive world of graduate studies.

Q: What do you see yourself doing next?

Right now I feel like I’d like to go back for my PhD, but there are a lot of other great opportunities out there too in the field. I’m really open to anything that might come along. It’s such a competitive field that whatever opportunity comes to me, I’d be excited and happy to take.

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Q: Do you have a memory of Inly that came up as a result of this experience?

I have a lot of memories of Inly, since I went there for 12 years, and many are connected to the ancient world and my studies of it, since that’s where I really got started. I distinctly remember being assigned reports on the Egyptian gods, and insisting on taking a lesser known deity, because the other ones were too easy and too well known. It turns out the goddess I selected is an enigmatic figure that even the most accomplished scholars today have trouble fully explaining—but that didn’t stop me from trying to back then, and I gave a report on her all the same (I still have a copy of it and it is hilarious). Also, I remember painting tiles to decorate the building in celebration of its anniversary. If you look to the right of the entrance you’ll still see mine mounted on the wall, labeled with my name, and painted with images of the Nile, pyramids, and Egyptian symbols.

Q: Any other comments or thoughts you would like to share?

I’d just really encourage students to pursue what they love. It’s important to realize that even if they aren’t able to only focus on that one thing in their elementary or high school studies that once they get to college they can really dive into whatever makes them passionate again and to not lose sight of that. Also, I’m always willing to answer questions about what I do or Egypt in general and people should feel free to contact me at afv209@nyu.edu, or avitali@mfa.org.

[Postscript: Ava just got word that she was admitted to the PhD program in Archaeology at Boston University. Congratulations!]

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