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When Jessa Barton '24, Elmira College History major, started her hybrid internship with the Smithsonian Institution, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Before this, I’d never done an internship at all, let alone a virtual one,” she explained.
Barton’s Smithsonian Leadership for Change internship split her time between an in-person experience at the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, and a virtual internship with the Smithsonian Institution based in Washington, D.C.
At the Rockwell, Barton and a fellow intern surveyed visitors, collecting data that the pair turned into a report as the main internship project. They also performed other museum roles like leading tours and helping with education experiences.
“The people at the Rockwell are amazing. They just went above and beyond every single time to try to make us feel welcome.”
In the virtual portion, Barton attended workshops about the museum industry, career tips, and professionalism. The program paired her with a mentor who provided guidance and connected her with museum professionals.
“There are not enough words in the English language to say how wonderful my mentor is. She is the best!” proclaimed Barton. “She took her role above and beyond by being so dedicated. And she was so busy, I don’t know how she found the time to do this stuff as well.”
By “this stuff” Barton meant meeting with Barton, answering her questions, and organizing one-on-one meetings with professionals in roles that interest Barton.
While Barton has already ruled out specializing in museum education, she remains uncertain about what role she wants to carve out for herself. So she jumped at the chance to talk to as many people as she could, sending introductory emails, and hopping on Zoom calls.
“Most of the time the people I spoke to were excited to talk with me because they’re focused on niche stuff and were glad to share with someone who cares. Others wouldn't know what to say so I had to think fast about what questions I could ask to prompt a good response.”
“I asked a provenance researcher if she had any book recommendations and she gave me a whole Google document of them. So I've been working through those.”
Throughout the experience, Barton kept detailed notes in a notebook that she continually refers to when she has questions. She also picked up several new skills.
“I interacted with people in a way that I normally wouldn't, which can be intimidating, but I exercised that muscle,” she said. “And then there was compiling the survey data and turning that data into a report, which was something I hadn’t done before” she explained.
Still, her favorite new skill was the fine art of networking.
“The best part of my internship for me was the career exploration because in most situations, knowing what to specialize in is a choice you would have to figure out once you get to graduate school. Talking to people I learned so much I would have never known, like if you want to become an art restorer you need a background equal in chemistry and fine arts. If I hadn’t learned that before getting to graduate school I might end up with the wrong degree for what I really want.”
The internship stretched Barton in such a positive way she hopes other students will take advantage of it, and she is grateful to Dr. Mark Pitner and the Office of Career Services for recommending it to her.