Internships can help college students discover their specific area of interest in their career field or be instrumental in securing employment after graduation
For Kayla Webb, a museum studies major at Tusculum College, her senior internship has done both.
To fill a major requirement, Webb served this fall as an intern at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend. Webb, who is from Hartford, said she choose the Heritage Center as the place to complete her internship because “I grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains and wanted to know more about my heritage, and the center looked like a place where I could fit.”
And she did in many ways. Early in her internship, she worked in the collection storage area of the Heritage Center, which works to preserve, present and promote the heritage of East Tennessee mountain communities through gallery exhibits, demonstrations, festivals and special events.
Working in the Heritage Center allowed Webb to integrate what she had learned previously in the classroom and her experiences in museums outside of the classroom, she said.
In the storage area, she had the opportunity to learn more about the proper care to preserve the exhibit items and a chance to add to her previous classroom experience using the Past Perfect software package for museum data collection, record keeping and other operational functions.
Webb also assisted with special events at the Heritage Center. Preparing for the Blue Ribbon County Fair, Webb was able to use her art talent and skill to make signs for the event. She has minored in art at Tusculum.
However, on the day of the event designed to give children hands-on experience of what it was like to live on a farm long ago, it rained almost the whole day. “That torrential downpour taught me a lot about flexibility,” she said.
Assisting with children’s programs that were originally supposed to be outside, Webb and the other staff members quickly organized events the children could do under a covered tent at the site.
The value of flexibility - not panicking but finding a solution when a problem arises - was the most important lesson Webb said she learned during her time at the Heritage Center. Working with the many educational programs that the center provides for children also helped emphasize that lesson, she said, as plans had to be changed at the last minute because groups arrived early or late, changes in program scheduling were wanted or students did not show up at all.
At first, Webb assisted the educational director with the children’s programs, but then taught on her own. In one program, she taught children three Native American games designed to improve basic counting skills and also introduce them to the lifestyle of the region’s earliest inhabitants. She then taught a clay pottery program that guided children through the steps of making a Native American clay pot of their own.
Using her art skills, Webb helped the education director improve the targets used in programs demonstrating Native American hunting methods. The target used for the blowgun demonstration was a traditional bull’s-eye. “I wanted to give the students an idea about what the Native Americans would be hunting with blowguns so I drew pictures of a squirrel, rabbit and pheasant that can be copied and used as targets.”
Her experience teaching at the Heritage Center has helped her decide that museum education is the area in which she would most like to work. When she sought the internship, “I wanted to do a little bit of everything because I wasn’t sure what area I wanted to pursue for a career,” she said.
The experience teaching, however, answered that question. “When you’re teaching and a student gets that spark in his or her eye from learning something new, that is the most rewarding experience I have ever had.”
Pleased with her artwork, the staff also asked Webb to make safety and directional signs fashioned from wooden shingles to replace existing laminated signs in its Historic Village.
Webb’s main project was to completely revise the center’s docent (tour guide) manual. The existing manual contained a great deal of information, she explained, but it was cumbersome to use.
Organizing and compiling a new manual, Webb’s objective was to make it easier to understand and use. She re-organized the information using a bullet-point format and added a new section of four appendices containing photos of each object on exhibit and its name.
In her experience in museums, Webb said she has noticed that the most frequent question asked by visitors is the name of an object in an exhibit, and the appendices will help guides be able to quickly identify the object and find something about it.
Web also added a resource section that included information about communicating at the appropriate age level of an audience, maps of the facility and a recommended reading list for those who wanted to learn more about areas covered in the manual.
Webb’s next step after graduation is also an opportunity that came to her through her work at the center. The directors of the center learned about a position at the Ramsey House Plantation historic house museum in Knoxville and told her about it. She applied for the position and the directors wrote letters of recommendation for her.
She now has a part-time position at the Ramsey House, which will become a full-time position in February. “I wouldn’t have gotten that job except for my internship.”
Webb also plans to continue her schooling in the future, most likely focusing on the area of museum education.
The college’s Museum Studies program is one of the few undergraduate museum studies programs in the nation, and its graduates have been successful in the museum field. Webb is the third graduate in a row that has a secured a position in the field prior to graduation.