By Lindsay Erhardt-Hansen, Director of Visitor & Volunteer Services
July at the NCSML includes Intern Appreciation and Mentorship Week. Being part of the growth and development of others is always rewarding. Check the perspectives of our director of visitor and volunteer services on the mutual benefits and value of interns and mentors at the NCSML.
As the Director of Visitors & Volunteer Services, one of my responsibilities is to coordinate our internship program. In 2014 I realized that our internship program could be better organized and there was a huge opportunity for the NCSML to offer quality, meaningful experiences for students, and build on our relationships with local colleges and universities through a robust internship program. Fast forward five years and more than 40 interns later, I think we have achieved this. In fact, this summer we have eight interns working on projects that include: programs, gardening, events, fundraising, education, interpretation, art, tour organizing, marketing, graphic design and much more. Students need hands-on, practical experiences and our internships offer exactly that.
While pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and master’s degree in Museum Studies, I had six internships. Some were great, and others were not. However, the ones that were great made a huge impact and prepared me with invaluable skills to put on my résumé. My personal experiences really shaped some of the core philosophies for the NCSML internship program.
Three take-a-ways that I apply to the program include offering internships that have a good balance of instructional learning with autonomy and responsibility for the student. Second, is to make sure that students gain insight into how museums work in addition to core responsibilities of their internship. Third, is to pay them! All six of my internships were unpaid. Museums struggle with this, but I want to make sure that we set a standard that, as a national museum, we value the work and significance of these partnerships. Paying our interns is the right thing to do.
Each year we include an Intern Appreciation Week and this year’s is July 15-21. During the Intern Appreciation Week, students get an opportunity to shadow and mentor staff in other departments outside their internship scope. We have learned that this really helps them broaden their understanding of what we do and offers insight into other departments that may help them shape their ideal career path. This is also a valuable opportunity for staff to articulate how they align what they do with our mission.
Over the past five years, we have had some great interns who have gone on to some amazing things. Sarah Henderson, K-12 Education Specialist, says it perfectly, “I interned with the NCSML as a senior in college. The work I did that summer informed my work throughout my master’s degree. Now I’ve been with the NCSML for two years as full-time staff and I’ve enjoyed fostering that same passion in museums with the interns that now report to me each summer.”
Ultimately, internships build on the future, and here at the NCSML we are committed to providing unique opportunities, which create a platform for not only students and but also our staff to grow.