This post is part of our Internship Spotlight series, which consists of short interviews with students about their internship experiences. The interview reflects on what the student has learned from the experience and any advice they’d give to individuals looking for internships. Our next spotlight is with Grace Liatti, a first-year UW Museology Student.
What organization are you interning with? Can you tell me what you are doing for your internship?
I’m currently in the throes of a 6-month internship at the Museum of Flight, where my work spans multiple departments to help the museum plan a big donor recognition push for its Red Barn donors. The Red Barn was the original Boeing factory and was moved and restored beginning in the 1970s thanks to some dedicated people, mainly former Boeing employees, who cared to preserve the historic structure. These donors were recorded in a big donor book. My work involves digitizing this book for donors and their families to have easy access to, and cross-referencing names in the book with the museum’s donor records to create a development strategy that connects with these donors—current and former—as they’re thinking about their legacy planning. Finally, I will be working with the digital engagement team to create a digital donor recognition platform that may be featured in the Red Barn itself.
What learning goals did you have going into this internship?
This internship caught my eye because it spans multiple departments that I have yet to work much in. I have some previous experience in collections work, but never digitization efforts, and I’m a little tech-shy so I wanted to push myself to be more comfortable and capable with digital technologies in museums. I also used to work in a development office, but I wasn’t part of the planning process or development strategy, so this opportunity is allowing me to be more hands-on with the brainstorming process in development work. Finally, as I’m tech-shy, I’ve definitely never had any experience in digital engagement work, but I recognize the importance of this type of work in today’s museum field. I’m looking forward to the challenges and opportunities this internship provides to expand my skillset in multiple museum areas
What have you ended up learning from your internship so far? Have there been any unexpected takeaways or learning moments?
So far, I’ve completed the digitization aspect of my internship, which wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Obviously digital work is much more granular and detailed than I understand, but it was nice to learn a few digitization practices and do them often enough that I feel more comfortable with the technology. The biggest takeaway from that aspect of the internship is definitely, digitization does not equal ease. We often assume the digital technologies make things easier and make museum work, especially collections, more accessible. This is true, but it’s also true that behind every digitized piece of media is a human hand and human brain, problem-solving to give people the most seamless digital experience possible. The sheer number of manhours it takes to scan, edit, process, and publish one small collection of letters or a single book confirms that most museums will never be able to digitze their entire collections.
What are you enjoying most about this internship?
I really like that this is a multi-stage, multi-departmental project, and it’ll be interesting to see how the work I do in one department builds off another another, or how one aspect of my work can be used completely different across museum areas.
What advice would you have your peers who are seeking out internship experiences?
So far, things have been great and my supervisors have been very communicative and well-prepared to oversee my work throughout this experience. One piece of advice I stand by is to always be honest about your strengths and limitations. When I was interviewing for this position, I was clear about my lack of experience with technology, in-depth development work, and exhibition design. Maybe that didn’t make me seem like the most qualified candidate, but I was also clear about my interest in understanding these things better and my desire to grow my skillset. Remember that an internship is a learning experience, not a career. You can go into an internship with relatively little experience related to the internship description, but as long as you express a real commitment to learning and asking questions, many people are willing to guide you.
What’s next? How does this internship relate to your career goals?
I’m mainly interested in museum administration, specifically coordinating internship experiences between a museum and university students. This internship at the Museum of Flight is great preparation for that work because, through the multi-departmental nature of my project, I get to see how many museum professionals collaborate, share ideas, delegate project management, and compromise. These skills will be especially useful for me because I’ll have a solid understanding of how to plan internship programs for students by understanding the different roles and responsibilities of all museum areas.