The subject line read “So here is an idea….”
The sender was my colleague and education specialist Ang. I’ve come to know her as a woman with great ideas and creative ways to make things happen. My interest was piqued.
Her idea: Would I consider taking on an education intern?
My initial reaction: I was simultaneously flattered and felt wholly unqualified. After all, there are those in my office with years of experience in the National Archives and a depth of knowledge about our records that surpasses what I know. I heard that inner voice say, “You’re just an Archives Tech not even an Archivist.” But you know what counteracted that Negative Nelly in my head: a colleague and friend had faith that I could do it AND while I may be an Archives Tech I’m by no means a newbie. I had curated an exhibit two years in a row and I’ve spoken before different people from k-12 students to grad students to my colleagues.
You know what? I thought. You can do this.
Despite that initial burst of confidence, I still felt the pangs of panic. I had always been the student learning from the teacher OR part of team with someone of similar levels of inexperience trying to figure something out. This was totally out of my depth.
The internship details: I would represent the National Archives as cultural partner in the Cultural Fieldwork Initiative through Temple University. I would take on an education intern (referred to as a fieldwork student or pre-service teacher). I would map out a project to be completed in 10-weeks that immersed the intern in archival research and resources to produce a product which would make our resources more accessible to teachers and students.
My responsibilities were to map out that project. And, I had a very short window to get it done. I got the initial email on August 22. The CFI night, where I would meet and interview potential interns, was September 8.
Two weeks to think up and plan a project. Oh that’s not hard at all….
In many ways it was easy. I knew what I wanted to use. Ever since NARA hammered out an agreement for Google Cultural Institute, I’ve been dying to use it. With our most recent move to the northeast area of the city, limited hours and services, we need to broaden what we do and how we do it.
So Google Cultural Institute. Now what? The question was what sort of exhibit could be researched, planned, and created in a 10-week span? I had a lot of ideas (and I won’t bore you with them) but they crashed and burned as the clock was running down. I’m bouncing ideas off of my colleagues at work and seeing which ones would pan out. And then Ang to my rescue.
She asked just a simple question, what did we do with all that Comstock stuff? Major light bulb moment. Over a year ago, the education department partnered up with a public history professor at Villanova University to research the Comstock Act. The students in the class worked with several NARA offices to uncover federal cases involving Comstock. They produced a veritable goldmine of material that, sadly, didn’t go anywhere else.
Boom,…an exhibit on the Comstock Act was born. Rather than my potential intern starting from scratch, they were starting with something and building from there. In no time, I had the project description and various work deadlines mapped out. Easy-peasy. Smooth sailing from here.
Not quite, the weekend before the scheduled CFI night where I would speed-interview interns, I got into a car accident. Now, I was laid up at home and slowly healing. Instead of seeing the students face-to-face, I now had to trust someone else to interview them. Ang became my proxy. I had questions for her but it wasn’t the same. To look in to the eyes of a person and get a feel for who they are as a person and as a worker. Not only that, I had a short window to make my selection as I was competing with other cultural partners for a finite pool of people.
She emailed me the resumes of the students. I reviewed them. We talked on the phone and she gave me her general impressions of each candidate. Ultimately, I had to take that leap of faith and just go with my gut.
So far, my gut hasn’t been wrong. My intern, Ben, is great. He does good work and he turns it in on time. It’s still weird to think that there’s only a 3 year age gap between us. I guess I always thought when I got an intern I would be so far into my career. This wise and perceptive archivist with years of experience under her built supervising a student new to the world of archives. Instead, I’m two years in and instructing a graduate student who could easily, age-wise, be a part of my friend group. Weird.
Still yet, I’m continually surprised and reminded of my newfound role when we have our meetings. I’m talking about some record group or record collection and there’s Ben, taking notes of everything I say. Outwardly, I keep on talking. Inwardly, my reaction is:
Sometimes, your career takes you down twists and turns that you hadn’t expected or could have anticipated. These turns force you to rethink what you think you’re capable of while challenging you to rise (or fall) to the occasion.