The Smithsonian Institution has long been one of my favorite places to go to in Washington, D.C. For a lover of history, it is a playground of discovery and knowledge. With it being the world’s largest museum system with 23 units and iconic name recognition, I first felt intimidated at the thought of interning there. At the same time, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, especially since I want to pursue a career in museum and heritage work.
After completing the online application and going to D.C. in March to interview for a summer position at the National Museum of American History, I wondered how I would compete with the many applicants from Ivy League schools and other famous universities. One month later, after a couple follow up phone interviews, I found out I was accepted as an intern in the Office of Education and Public Engagement. I was so thrilled! With some financial assistance through OSD’s Lifetime Experience Grant, I moved to the nation’s capital and began the internship in June.
Once there, my experience was everything I had hoped for and more! Within the National Museum of American History (or NMAH, which again is just one of the Smithsonian’s many museums), my main projects involved developing interpretive plans for daily public programming in the museum’s first floor plaza. It was somewhat similar to creating a curriculum or lesson plan based around themes like colonial chocolate or printing presses, only on a deeper level. I did research with curators and NMAH’s archive center, learned the process of how teaching artifacts are collected, arranged a series of interactive objects on tables, and formatted my research into a way that is fun and accessible to people from all background.
The part I enjoyed most about my internship was the opportunity to directly engage with museum visitors from all around the world. I was especially moved when a young girl interacted with me during the chocolate program for about 15 minutes, afterward saying, This is so cool. I learned more here than I ever did in school! Moments like these reaffirm my passion for educating and inspiring through storytelling.
My overall experience at the Smithsonian provided me mentorship, networking, techniques on teaching with creative spaces, and many more invaluable skills that will definitely propel me into a future career in some form of public history. My next big dream is to study Public History at Royal Holloway, University of London, through a Fulbright research/study grant. Having had my Smithsonian internship, I will have a wealth of experiences and stories I can incorporate into my Fulbright application to give me an added edge in the applicant pool.
My exposure to the Smithsonian this past summer also taught me an important secret I want to share with other WKU students who are considering internships: You do NOT have to be a history major to work at a museum! The Smithsonian is HUGE and uses people from all kinds of disciplines. If you are a Biology person, the Natural History Museum or the Smithsonian Zoo might be a perfect place to work, if you are into art or engineering or even marketing, there are places and departments for you. I was the only WKU intern (to my knowledge) this past summer, but that needs to change! Everyone should apply, because it is an amazing opportunity not many get to experience.