Twanna Hodge: Through the Eyes of a Caribbean American Intern at NMAH
Intern. That is what I am and what I have been for the last 2 months, an intern who was hired to complete assignments and projects in order to gain some real world experience. I got that and a whole lot more. As a Caribbean American, born and raised on the island of St. Thomas which is a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, I have never stepped foot in a Smithsonian Museum before May 31, 2013. On that date I was trying to locate the National Museum of American History, for that place was to be by third home for 10 weeks and has been too. The National Museum of American History is a place filled with wonder, majestic objects and artifacts that re-creates history and documents that hold such heavy and wondrous meaning.
Let me, tell you a little more about me. I recently graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands– St. Thomas Campus. Now, some people might wonder “what made me leave the Caribbean?” After living there for over 22 years, I am ready to go out and explore the world, then take everything that I learned back with me, so I can make life there a little better. Leaving the beautiful island of St. Thomas for 10 weeks remained a challenge for me. I left the sun, sand, and wonderful mentors and friends for the nation’s capital- Washington, D.C. A place filled with intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated professionals who were there to make a name for them or continue to uphold their name. Also, I went from being the majority to the minority and the weather was not as I expected. I had to get accustom to escalators, the metro system, and explaining where I come from and where the VI is located.
However, some people might want to know how I got here, like what spark my interest in librarianship/archives. Well, it started when I was young, I love reading. Through reading I can travel and conquer planets, speak different languages and go on fantastical adventures. I could experience a world outside of my little island in the sea. After that, then I knew that I wanted to become a librarian/archivist. So during my hectic, stressful, and frantic senior year my mentor forwarded me an email about Summer Internship Opportunities at the National Museum of American History that was forwarded to them because they are a part of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. From the crucial email I made the decision to apply and let they say, the rest in history.
My official job title is Development Assistant and before I began I did not fully know what I was getting myself into but I learned immediately and grew to love the museum and my job even more. Working in a museum is different from any other jobs I ever done before. A museum is village, with some many different parts that is separate and run on their own but comes together to produce seriously amazing products.
As intern working the Archives center I learnt quickly what finding aids are and how to use them, how to search using SIRIS (which is the Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System) for the Archives, Manuscripts, and Photographic collections. And as a development intern I had to make connections and think outside of the box in order to come up with a list of granting agencies, foundations, professional organizations and interest groups that we (meaning the Archives Center) could apply for funds in our to complete important projects that are vital to preserving and providing access to American History. I have created a calendar with a list of granting agencies and their deadlines and completed other projects. Through doing research to find granting agencies, I was able to learn more about the collections. So I was able to learn about the Scurlock Collection or about the International Sweethearts of Rhythm Collection.
The best part of my experience is meeting people and learning about the Smithsonian beside the wonderful food. I have met some wonderful interns, staff, supervisors not just at the Smithsonian but at the enrichment events that intern coordinators organized for us. The worst experience in D.C. is getting hopelessly lost and being homesick. I missed the warm weather, my family and friends, and my room filled with all of my books.
Through this internship I was have grown as a person and learn so much, that I plan to spread what I have learnt. I would recommend that anyone that is interested in American history would like to gain some work experience then apply and submit all of the required documents early. I will leave you with this quote from William Arthur Ward. “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you dream it, you can become it.”