Carlee Forbes

Student Info

Graduation Year:
May 2011
Kalamazoo, Michigan

What made you decide to attend the RCAH?
I think that the idea of an engaged education is what really sealed the deal.

Do you have any favorite memories?
So many! I remember looking up at the most amazing starry sky when our bus broke down in rural Mali. I remember all the fieldtrips in Laura Delind’s 292 (pre-ABC delineation) class on food systems. I remember RCAH council: 40% work 60% fun. I remember standing at Pam’s desk chatting between classes. And most recently, I remember how exciting it was to hear where everyone is and what they are doing with their lives at the alumni event. 

What was your favorite Gallery meal? Favorite place to eat off campus?
All the specialty salads with a warm cookie on the side

What was the best part of RCAH?
The support network—at all levels. I loved the academic freedom that allowed me to build my own curriculum based on my goals and interests. But within this flexibility there was also an immense amount of support. Let’s face it, when given too many choices, it becomes very easy to flounder and choose nothing, but the faculty and staff alike helped to find and select the opportunities that would be best for me. I can never be grateful enough for this guidance and how it helped me to grow into the person I am today.

What were your academic interests in RCAH?
I double majored, combining RCAH with History and adding specializations in African Studies and Museum Studies. The RCAH curriculum fit perfectly into my interests as well as my hobbies. I particularly enjoyed courses that focused on developmental practices, world cultures, and textiles.

What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?
One of the best aspects of the RCAH is the student-faculty relationships. The RCAH is very fortunate in that the faculty have such a strong commitment to student success. In the formal sense, we are always able to drop by their offices because they are right there in Sny-Phi. But then there are also all the informal events, meeting in the hallways, lunches in the Gallery, and evening events. It is a true collaborative, cooperative atmosphere.

Did you ever take part in Study Abroad/Study Away at MSU? If so, which programs?
Yes! I participated in the Mali study abroad in the summer of 2008 and returned in summer of 2010. Additionally, I was a part of the co-sponsored semester study abroad to Dakar, Senegal in spring 2010. It was through study abroad that my passion for African studies really flourished. I cannot advocate enough for the benefit of study abroad; it is such a great life experience.

What have you done since graduating and where are you now?

After graduating, I jumped right back into school. In 2013, I completed my MA in Art History at the University of Florida. While at UF, I was presented with a range of fantastic opportunities. First, I joined the curatorial team that planned a major exhibition project called Kongo Across the Waters . It was a collaborative effort between UF's Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium.

I am now pursuing my PhD in art history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My focus is on Central African art—specifically on artistic innovation, creativity and artist-patron relationships in colonial-era Congo. I also work as an assistant consulting curator for African Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Additionally, I was able to continue my passion for marching band by becoming the colorguard instructor for the Gator Marching Band and the Marching Tar Heels.


Which RCAH experiences influenced the work you do today?
The most obvious is probably the influence of the Mali Study Abroad (2008), which solidified my choice to switch from American to African studies. Some of the themes that we explored during that program, including questions about artistic heritage are still some of the major questions that I address in my own research today. Additionally, the experience of working closely with faculty both in the classroom and to develop the college’s programs was really special. I think it has definitely impacted the ways that I interact with my own students and expectations I have for my teaching.

Did you know while you were in college that you wanted to do the type of work you’re doing now?
Kind of? I knew that I always wanted to be in some kind of educational position—either formal or informal teaching. I never imagined that ten years later I would still be in school and striving for a tenure track job or a curatorial position. I do remember sitting in one of the rocking chairs in in Scot Yoder’s office sometime in my first year. We were just having a typical advising appointment about the classes I wanted to take and how it was all going to fit into my master plan for finishing my two degrees. He said that he knew I was going to end up in grad school and someday be a professor, I quickly told him that it wasn’t for me. Of course, Scot was right—so, here we are.

How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?
In a broad sense, the RCAH taught me that my education can take my anywhere. In a more academic sense, the interdisciplinary approach of the RCAH's curriculum greatly prepared me for graduate school by teaching me to look at issues from many different angles and to always ask questions.


What were your academic interests in RCAH?
I double majored, combining RCAH with History and adding a minor in French and specializations in African Studies and Museum Studies. The RCAH curriculum fit perfectly into my interests as well as my hobbies. I particularly enjoyed courses that focused on developmental practices, world cultures, and textiles.

What do you enjoy most about your current job? 
I really love learning and learning with others. Throughout my graduate work, I’ve had several opportunities to serve as a teaching assistant and discussion leader—both for art history and interdisciplinary courses. For one semester, I even co-taught my own class. We were working with freshmen students at UNC in a seminar setting. The other instructors and myself were from different disciplines and drew upon our own research interest to create a course called ‘Colonialism, Power, and Resistance.’ In the course, we had students examine the historical precedents and contemporary implications of the power dynamics at play in colonialism. Teaching the course, seeing how the students grew and developed their own interests throughout the course was a true highlight of my graduate experience. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on several curatorial teams to develop new museum exhibitions. In this role, I interact with an entirely different audience and set of expectations. I’ve had so many great experiences working in museums that it is difficult to point to a singular example. But, I think what I find to be the most enjoyable is the constant challenge to be able adapt material for all kinds of audiences—whether it is college freshmen, my graduate peers, a group of docents, or a class of elementary children.

What are some of the challenges?
We can be honest—going to graduate school is tough. There is an immense amount of competition for funding and opportunities. There is too much work to do in too little time. It gets stressful. But, in the end, I am comforted by my personal and professional support networks and know that the end is in sight.

What kind of hobbies do you have outside of work?
While at MSU, I was in the Spartan Marching Band Colorguard, and I continue to work with marching bands today. Although I took the fall 2017 season off, I have worked with the Marching Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the Gator Marching Band at the University of Florida. I love the opportunity to get outside and work with students to develop a different kind of creative expression—plus football!

If you could plan an event for alumni in your area, what would you do?
There are so many RCAH-y things to do around NC!! Asheville and other smaller towns in western North Carolina have some great pottery studios, not to mention the incredible craft brewery selection.

What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students?
The RCAH offers the opportunity for you to mold your own education. Take advantage of that. Go abroad, suggest class topics, join RCAH Council, get to know the faculty, and engage in the tough conversations.