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Middlebury College Interns Have a Unique Smithsonian Experience

Posted on February 27, 2014 by in The OFI Blog

Midd  J-term 2014

Recently, four students from Middlebury College had the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C., and intern at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Intern Michael Walden shares what the experience was like for them, and how you can apply to intern with the museum:

In the heart of Vermont, nestled in between Lake Champlain and the state capital of Montpelier, lies one of the oldest and most respected liberal arts colleges in America. Middlebury College, founded in 1800, is home to approximately 2500 students; all of which strive to uphold the school motto of “Knowledge and Virtue.” This winter, four of these students were given the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. and experience the various opportunities the National Museum of American History had to offer.

While the students were certainly anxious to work in such a well-known museum, they admittedly were intimidated by the prestigious Smithsonian name. “I was expecting a very formal, not very student-friendly atmosphere” said Caroline Keogh.

However, the interns were relieved to find that the museum staff were surprisingly friendly and welcoming. Amanda Bertholf further expressed this, saying: “I was impressed by the staff and how down to earth they were.” It’s safe to say that their expectations were exceeded, as they quickly found out about the pleasant and social atmosphere within the building.

The students also found out quickly that their time here would be unlike the experience of most other internship opportunities. Mirella Levin recalled, “It wasn’t quite clear at first as to where we would be working, but we quickly learned about the variety of work being done at the Smithsonian”. The students shared a unique experience of being assigned to not just one division or project. Rather, they were exposed to the plurality of opportunities that the museum has to offer; many of which they were unaware were necessary to successfully running a museum. From archival and curatorial work, to graphic design, to new media and public outreach, the students were pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of job opportunities here at the museum.

Regarding their experience shadowing these divisions and many more behind the scenes features, the interns stated, “We gained a new appreciation and perspective for museum work and exhibitions”.

Along with the educational aspect of the internship, the students also benefited a great deal from the professional experience that they gained while working here. “It was definitely educational at times, but overall it was more of a professional learning experience,” said Claire Smith while describing her time in Washington, D.C. The interns were able to meet with and work alongside many Smithsonian employees that shared their knowledge and guidance on office etiquette and the work environment; all the while giving helpful hints as to how to survive in the professional work force. The students not only observed this professional environment, but they also were able to contribute to it, as they were given the opportunity to complete daily tasks that strengthened their ability to communicate and work in an engaging manner. Before long, they were quickly acclimated to the museum’s atmosphere, and thriving as members of the American History community.

Finally, the students were also able to enjoy everything that the city has to offer, as they took the time to visit many sites and attractions throughout the city. “We loved exploring” said Caroline. Visits to the monuments and other museums, as well as city amenities such as public transportation, restaurants, and the splendor of downtown greatly contributed to their Washington, D.C., experience. When asked about favorite attractions, Amanda stated, “I only wish we had more time!”

In the spring, each student returned to Middlebury College with an expanded network, invaluable professional experience, and countless memories of their time here. There is no doubt that this will serve as a catalyst for many more opportunities for these students in the future.

Interested in interning at the National Museum of American History? The Internship Program is accepting applications for summer internships through March 1st. Learn about what it takes to manage collections, work as a historian, or the many other necessary tasks it takes to successfully operate a major museum.