Museology Master of Arts Program

May 10, 2021

Internship Spotlight – Marie Baeta

This post is part of an Internship Spotlight series, which consists of short interviews with our students who have completed internship positions. The interview reflects on what the student learned from the experience and any advice they’d give to individuals looking for internships. Our next spotlight is with Marie Baeta, a second year UW Museology Student. Her responses are below: 
Marie Baeta she/her/hers

What organization did you intern with and can you tell me what you did in your internship?  

I interned with Access Smithsonian, which is a centralized office for accessibility and inclusion with the Smithsonian Institute and I was an Access Intern with them. They were open to seeing what I was interested in learning, I shared that I was interested in inclusive exhibit design, and they assigned me to their co-design user expert sessions. When a Smithsonian Museum wants to develop a tactile or interactive exhibit, they come to Access Smithsonian to facilitate user expert sessions, and then the Smithsonian partners with the Institute for Human Centered Design in Boston, and they tag team interviews with a variety of user experts which are people who have a range of disabilities.The Smithsonian and the Institute each have a diverse pool of user experts and they choose who they think would match the project well.

In preparation, I watched 12 user expert interviews for a past project so I could get up to speed with how the sessions were run. Then I participated in six user expert interviews, and two of them were pairs, so it was eight people in total. They were really insightful. It was great to participate in these user sessions, ask users questions, and see how they’re facilitated. Despite using the same questions in each interview, it was illuminating to see all of these different design themes emerge from talking to different people. I was tasked with creating a “Findings Report” summarizing those common themes and points of confusion. I pulled some quotes to illustrate those points, included some recommendations, and organized all the feedback into an easy to read document. In addition, a smaller portion of my work related to an art-related endeavor, in which I compiled strategies and practices around how to make artwork accessible.

How did you find your internship? Did you have any specific criteria you followed to find an internship? 

I knew I wanted to do something around accessibility in museums and I thought why not look at the Smithsonian, they have a ton of internships and fellowships available so perhaps there might be an accessibility related opportunity. I didn’t see an internship specifically with Access Smithsonian on the list so I decided to just email them directly. I’m a huge fan of the cold email. It’s been a useful strategy in building my network, and folks are generally very willing to give time to a graduate student. My best tips for sending a cold email is to research their work, make a connection with your interests and their work, and be specific about asking for time to talk. In my experience most people love talking about themselves and their work. I think people feel flattered when you reach out to them directly. Anyway, so I ended up just emailing Access Smithsonian directly, explained my background and interests around accessibility and museums, and asked if they offered internships in the Spring. At that point they hadn’t hosted a virtual internship before and were unsure if they would be able to host me. Luckily the internship stars aligned and they agreed to take me on!

What have you learned from your internship experience so far?  

I feel like my internship directly informed my thesis project and gave me insight into the qualities of a workplace that I would like to find. Initially for my thesis project I was going to have a series of five workshops with museum staff and User Experts to assess the accessibility of a local museum’s science show. However, many of the User Experts were not able to commit to all five meetings so I was unsure of how to proceed. Then, through my experience with the Smithsonian and their User Expert interviews, I decided to pivot to the interview model. So I ended up doing user expert interviews for my thesis project and interviewed six people, which was really fun. The information I learned from the internship directly related to what I was doing in my thesis project and I’m grateful to have learned from the best!

It also emphasized that I want to work for a place that values accessibility from the beginning and isn’t something that gets tacked on at the end or is operating at the bare minimum. I really appreciated being in an environment where people were really thinking about inclusion holistically. Centering the voices of disabled people is really important to me and I am hoping to find a job at an organization or institution that truly centers those voices and values. It also diversified my understanding of how disabled people, specifically blind/low vision folks, interpret the world and museum content. It was exciting to hear User Expert perspectives and to see how their experiences could shape exhibit design. This intersection between design and inclusion; that’s where I thrive, and during this internship I thought “These are my people, I want to do this work!” I loved how this project created this space of imagination, where we could brainstorm and ideate how an artifact or interactive exhibit could fit the needs of different people.

Have you been able to connect what you are doing in your internship to what you do in the program? In what ways? 

I definitely think elements of the co-design User Expert interviews are related to the Collaborative Exhibits class. That class focuses on building trust and relationships with different communities and really dives into the co-design process of exhibit making, which I think is a powerful step in sharing curatorial authority. Before taking the Collaborative Exhibits class I was exploring design more generally and took a Human Centered Design class. As someone without a design background, it gave me a framework that I could apply to other projects. It taught me how to sketch, ideate, conduct user research and testing, and use online 3D prototyping software.

So I see my internship as another “stick in the fire” as far as my activities related to accessibility and exhibit design. I’ve sought out local disability arts organizations and advocacy networks, read books by disabled authors and curators, and generally just try to be more aware of what work is being done and be open to learning. I feel kind of like a slime mold where I expand my reach into all of these different networks and try to recenter myself with some kind of understanding of the field. Currently there is no centralized place on the web for museums and accessibility so I think it’s everyone just trying to make sense of what is out there.

The internship gave me direct insight into current practices as well as actual skills of applying those practices. Because COVID ruined all of the hands-on opportunities in the Museology program, I feel truly grateful to have had this real-world experience, where I got to apply these skills, not just read about them.

How do you think your internship experience contributed to your overall graduate experience? 

The internship exposed me to different ways of including disabled people into exhibit design, taught me to be flexible and move with grace, to not be afraid to try something new, and the importance of doing your ‘homework’. I continue to learn about ableism and anti-racism and how they influence me and my work, which is a on-going task as an able-bodied, white person. That’s my responsibility as an exhibit designer, to always be working on those boundaries. There is always more to learn/unlearn and I think that’s an important quality to embody both personally and professionally.

The internship definitely gave me a chance to learn and practice real-world skills, which I applied directly to my thesis, and will hopefully apply to a future job. I also gained a whole new network of people who are doing the good work!

Is there anything you would have done differently about your internship experience? 

I would have liked to have a longer internship, 10 weeks felt too short, especially because I enjoyed the work!

Do you have any recommendations for students looking into internships now? 

Self advocacy is a very important practice during your internship. If you think something isn’t working, talk to your supervisor! Is your project not as rigorous as you would like? Talk to your supervisor! It’s come up for me at every internship- you have to keep on the ball and ask for what you want-it’s an important skill to practice and you will wow them with your motivation!

As far as recommendations, I’d advocate for the cold email. Find the places you want to work at, find the people who are doing the job that you want to do, and if you don’t know the job you want to do start asking people what they do. Interview anybody who is willing to talk and ask them what they love about the job, what they don’t like about the job, their path to their position, etc. Ask about the institution’s values, ask if the institutions’ actually putting money towards those values, like literal budgets towards the issues or accessibility. Even if your dream place doesn’t offer internships you can always ask them if there’s somebody else you could reach out to, somebody else they think you could get in contact with, or other resources, organizations, or companies that might be open to it. Just because they said no doesn’t mean it’s a closed door, just think of it as the next branch of a tree. If they can’t help you out, maybe they’d be willing to help you get to the next step or reach the next person to talk to.