Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Emily Kraft's Smithsonian internship

Emily Kraft is a junior History major and Public History minor who is interning at the Smithsonian Institution this semester through the Washington Internship Institute (WII). Emily was mentioned in a front-page story in The Washington Post on November 3, 2014. "A is for abacus, O is for outhouse seat," described the collection of educational artifacts that educator Richard Lodish is donating to the Smithsonian Institution. (Also see this NPR story.) Emily is assisting Smithsonian staff in sorting and cataloging these materials. 


In this guest blog post, Emily writes about what she has learned from the internship. She also explains how help from the Buffalo Chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Daemen History & Political Science Department made her internship possible.

Emily Kraft at the Smithsonian Institution

By Emily Kraft

My interest in history and public history has led me into the field of museum studies. Last fall, in my sophomore year, I was introduced to the Washington Internship Institute (WII) by a friend and by my advisor, Dr. Penny Messinger. This program pushes students out of their comfort zones by helping them find internships in their desired field as they live in Washington, D.C. for three and a half months. I commute to Daemen and I had never been away from home for more than a week, so coming to D.C. was a giant step for me. With the help of the History and Political Science Department I was determined to get out of my personal comfort zone and become an independent and professional young woman. I could not believe I was about to do this, but I was ready to embark on this journey in my life.

Richard Lodish shows educational artifcacts, photo from The Washington Post

Help from the AAUW made my internship possible 

I applied to the WII and got accepted in early November 2013. When I got my acceptance email I knew everything was real and that August could not come fast enough. As the rest of the semester went on, I started to think about how I would be able to fund this. I asked Dr. Messinger for suggestions for scholarships or grants and she recommended the Buffalo Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Chamberlain Loan and Grant award. I was not personally familiar with this award but she told me more about it and also introduced me to Judy Weidemann, an alumna of Daemen, who is an active member of the AAUW who was familiar with the Chamberlain Loan committee. 

I met Ms. Weidemann when I attended the Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner last fall. She was the most kind, compassionate and friendly lady when I talked to her about my future plans in Washington. She told me more about the Chamberlain Loan program and offered to help guide me through the process. I applied, and in late January, I learned that the committee was interested in my application and wanted to do a short interview. I went to a local library and sat around a table with about eight other women who each asked me questions about the program, my need for the money and my future plans/goals. A few months later I received an email of notification that I had received a thousand dollar loan and a grant from AAUW. I was grateful that they picked me from among many other applicants.

The AAUW has not only given me a sizeable award, but the award gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams in Washington, D.C. I have them to thank for being so generous and giving me confidence to take this leap of faith.

Emily Kraft

The WII 

When spring semester started, I began the process of continuing with my application for WII. I met often with Lamark Shaw in the Career Services Office, as well as other staff members. Jason Patrie was my WII advisor and helped me to decide where I wanted to intern. In early summer I sent out applications to the National Museum of American History, the Newseum, the International Spy Museum, Crime and Punishment, and several other museums in Old Town Alexandria. At the end of July, I started to get nervous because I hadn’t heard back from most places. One day I got a message on my phone from Ms. Debbie Schaefer-Jacobs, curator of the Division of Home and Community Life at the Smithsonian. She was interested in the skills I described on my application and said she would like to have me as an intern. This was my number one dream internship because I have always loved the Smithsonian. It was perfect for a person who loves museums. I was so proud of myself that I achieved something so prestigious.

Emily at work, sorting artifacts from the Lodish collection (photo courtesy Emily Kraft)

My work at the Smithsonian

Today, I am about halfway through my internship and working on accessioning a large school collection of about 900 items. The donor, Dr. Richard Lodish, was the headmaster for thirty years at Sidwell Friends School in Bethesda, MD. His collection includes hornbooks, primers, school desks, patriotic school bells and pencil boxes, alphabet boards, quilts, samplers, photographs and many more items. All the items are being stored in his home in Bethesda. It is my job to prepare the packing list for each visit along with the boxes, envelopes and bubble wrap needed to properly pack the items. My supervisor and I take weekly trips to his house for a few hours and use our packing list to find the items we need to take for that time. Dr. Lodish has been collecting these items for about forty years and he is very enthusiastic about the donation. He helps us look for the items on our list and take the packed boxes to our car.

Once back at the museum, we must unload everything onto carts at the loading dock. Other staff members help bring the artifacts up to our special storage space that I usually work in. After getting the objects safely upstairs, it is my job to take them off the cart and unpack them for temporary storage. I package each item with its own label so they can be easily identified for keeping track of them. Smaller items get put into special, acid-free boxes; prints or small samplers get put into acid free-folders; and other items either get put in boxes or put on bubble wrap. All items are covered in acid-free tissue and then a large piece of thick plastic.

What the internship has meant to me

Coming to Washington D.C. has been the most beneficial experience for me because it has allowed me to meet so many new people, to network, and to think about my future. At home I feel very disconnected from the outside world and D.C. seems far away. Surrounding myself in the culture of the city has allowed me to explore my interests and options. I have thought a lot about graduate school and more internships or studying abroad because I am much more motivated to take advantage of everything going on. I now have a few ideas for possible career options and I understand more about museums and living on my own in general. The Smithsonian is such an intricate institution with many offices and staff to talk to and learn from.

Moving forward, I am looking at graduate programs that have a concentration in museum studies. I am interested in archaeology, museum education, curation and archaeological survey.   

**You can learn more about Daemen's public history minor by contacting Dr. Penny Messinger; read about Daemen's affiliation with the Washington Internship Institute here or contact Lamark Shaw at Daemen's Career Services office.

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