Sophomore Brandon Eng translates museum know-how from New York City to Geneseo

Sophomore Brandon Eng takes ownership of his education and grabs every educational opportunity through internships and grants that all combine his interests in anthropology and art history.

Eng said that before he came to Geneseo, he seized every opportunity to explore his educational interests. In high school he worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, to which he attributes his decision to study anthropology. Eng received this museum internship through the National Science Foundation after taking anthropology courses at the museum.

“Oftentimes, in the city they have great museum education programs,” Eng said. “I got paid to work in a research lab and got to assist anthropologists with research on material culture.”

Eng also conducted research at The Frick Collection in New York City.

In addition, Eng took classes on art making at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. After his classes at the museum, he interned at the Whitney where his responsibilities included giving and designing tours for school groups and families, as well as public programming.

In the summer of 2012, Eng worked at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, N.Y., a museum that features material culture of film production, such as old video cameras and television sets. Eng said his experience at the museum fostered a new appreciation for film, adding another perk of meeting film director Martin Scorsese at a panel discussion.

Eng is currently participating in a directed study at the Livingston County Historical Society and Museum, where he has worked as an intern for the past three semesters.

“I guess I got interested in museums because I think there … is this dream of an egalitarian education for everyone … with the access people have to better themselves,” Eng said. “I see it as another form of education for the public because you’re shaping how and what they perceive.”

Eng received the James Houston ‘80 Ambassadorship in Innovation to complete his project “Activating the Gaze: Visualizing American Identity” this past summer. He said that he used the grant to purchase disposable cameras for immigrants in New York City to take pictures of what American identity meant to them.

“I originally wanted to take pictures of immigrants and their daily lives,” Eng said. “But being an anthropology student, there’s a history of exploitation, so I thought it would be more interesting to have their perspectives. I used the images to talk about issues of identity.”

Eng said that he used photography as a medium because it is “an easy way to access visual studies,” which opens the broader spectrum of art to “visual culture.”

“People … think that photography is objective,” Eng continued. “But the very act of taking a photograph … comes from a certain position because you’re deciding what is important to represent.”

Eng said he attributes his idea for using immigrants to his own family history, adding that although he is “removed” from his family’s history, he wanted to “foreground his family’s experiences” to make the project relatable.

“For me, that personal interest in the project - even if I wasn’t investigating my personal history - was important and I think something that made the project more important to me,” Eng said.

As for continuing the project, Eng said he wishes to ask new questions for people to ponder and visualize in new ways, such as social media.

Before graduation Eng said he would like to study abroad in either Germany or Austria. After Geneseo, Eng said he hopes to become a museum curator or a collections manager and possibly earn a Master of Library and Information Science degree.