Lifelong friendships and a dream job
By Bryan Demchinsky
Keri Ryan is proof that a bachelor of arts can take you far in life — in fact, all the way to the other side of the world. Ryan (BA ’97) has just started a job at M+, a new museum of visual culture opening next year in Kowloon, across the harbour from central Hong Kong Island.
Ryan became the museum’s curator of learning and interpretation this March. Her role, she says, is to work with the new team “to find ways to make contemporary visual culture accessible to a global and a local Hong Kong audience.”
That’s where her uOttawa psychology degree comes in.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do after a degree in psychology, but I knew that I was interested in learning, the human brain and cognitive development,” she says. Her knowledge in these areas has helped build a career in which she considers how best to facilitate learning in a museum setting.
Born in New Zealand and raised in Guelph, Ryan did French immersion in high school and wanted to continue becoming bilingual. As it has been for so many students, uOttawa was an ideal place for that. Having learned French, she landed a job with the Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History).
“That put me on the museum path,” she says.
The University of Ottawa was formative in another way. Getting to know a new city and campus can be intimidating, but in Ryan’s case, it led to lifelong friendships. She recalls taking a bus to a concert to take a break from the orientation week bustle, and recognized several fellow first-year students on the bus doing the same thing.
She remains close to three women she met that evening, who all live in Toronto, where she also ended up. “We were from different residences on campus, but then lived together in a house in second year,” she says.
Vicky Barham, vice-dean of undergraduate studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences, is also a friend and a mentor. She echoes Ryan’s thoughts about the benefits of life on campus.
“One of the things that is special about uOttawa is how incredibly diverse our student body is,” Barham says. “And there are so many opportunities for students to establish friendships — whether through classes or shared activities — that do indeed last a lifetime.”
Ryan and her friends are in the midst of varied careers, but have stayed involved in each other’s lives ever since that bus ride. They get together for concerts, movies and hikes, and last year celebrated 25 years of friendship.
While uOttawa laid the foundation for her career, a master’s in museum studies at the University of Toronto boosted her into a job at the Art Gallery of Ontario, after a stint at the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.
She began as a project manager at the AGO, eventually moving to the education department. Her last job there was acting head of public programming and learning — the specialization that is now taking her to Asia.
For Ryan, taking on the role of educator at the new museum in Kowloon featuring contemporary art, design and architecture will mean “helping define M+’s voice by working with curators and its digital and education teams.”
Starting from scratch was also a big part of the new position’s appeal. It was a chance to exercise her skills “in a whole new culture, to get outside of what I know, to change things up — physically, intellectually. All those things are really exciting for me.”
It’s a challenge, but one she won’t face alone. Ryan’s husband, a New Zealander who works for the Royal Bank of Canada, is equally enthusiastic about their new life in Hong Kong.
“So much about Asia is in the future,” Ryan says, referring to the vitality of the East. She could also be talking about the space that Asia now occupies in her own life.
The uOttawa connection – Keri Ryan’s friends for life:
- Leanne Dufault (BA ’98) – research and archives, CTV National News
- Tullia Marcolongo (BA ’98) – executive director of the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), a non-profit organization focused on keeping travellers healthy
- Danielle Trépanier (BA ’98) – Grade 4 French teacher with the Toronto District School Board
Keri Ryan reclines on Isamu Noguchi’s Play Sculpture at M+ Pavilion in the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong. Noguchi designed the artwork for interaction and play.