While most Whitworth students spent Jan Term on campus or enjoying the break between long semesters, five Whitworth Honors students traveled to Washington, D.C., to intern for the Smithsonian Institution. Doug Sugano, Ph.D, who visited the interns during the term, highlighted the unique partnership between Whitworth and the Smithsonian.
“It’s really prestigious for Whitworth to have a special internship agreement with the Smithsonian in that only two other universities in the U.S. have the same sort of partnership,” Sugano said. “…Any student in the U.S. can apply to do internships at the Smithsonian, but they have to go through the larger Smithsonian process which is fine and works well, but there are probably tens of thousands of students who apply for hundreds of opportunities. With this particular program we have with the Smithsonian, we choose five interns who automatically get the positions. Even the best schools in the U.S. don’t send five.”
The internship program is facilitated by a partnership between Whitworth and the Smithsonian Institution that was created through the work of Janet Houk, Whitworth’s archivist. Two years ago Houk wrote a grant to go visit the Smithsonian and during that time met with administrators to set up this special program for Whitworth students, Sugano said.
To be considered for selection, students must provide two recommendations and write an essay. The essay must illustrate how the experience will enhance their career and educational goals, as well as list which areas the student is interested in working in. These interests are then used to help place the students that are selected. During the three-week internship, the students stayed with Whitworth alumni currently living in the Washington D.C. area.
This year, the five students from Whitworth came from a variety of majors and years. Senior Spanish and cross-cultural studies major Hannah Norris and junior English major Katie Cunningham worked in the Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage. Art history major Stacey Moo worked with the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Asian Art Museum, while senior Thomas Hull worked with the Smithsonian’s Heirloom Garden. Junior Madison Garner worked with The Smithsonian Associates.
Each student was able to participate in a project related to the interests listed in their application essay.
“The thing that surprised me most was how much they trusted me to choose my own topic…” Cunningham said of the experience. “I really felt like my project was self-driven, and because they respected me enough to do that, I gained a greater sense of confidence and created something that helped me grow academically and as a person.”
Her project, a web-based exploration of mixed race identity including oral histories taken from several interviews, will be live on the website of the Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage next fall.
Norris, who worked in the same department but on a different project, also had a positive experience, and felt that her connection to Whitworth helped her to have a memorable experience.
“[My] unique education from Whitworth let me be on the same page as [the Smithsonian staff] on a lot of things,” and added that her hosts, former Whitworth students, were incredibly generous, and “experiencing their hospitality made me want to also give back in the future, maybe also to Whitworth students,” Norris said.
Four of the five participants (Garner is currently studying abroad in Australia) briefly presented on their experiences, and all spoke highly of their experiences. All said that they felt that they were put into situations where their talents and interests were respected and encouraged.
Hull, when asked if he would recommend that other Whitworth students participate in the program, said, “Absolutely. I would, and the one important thing I would add about that is that it is not an internship for history majors … the
Smithsonian institution encompasses museums, human and public relations—it encompasses any field we have studied, and this is an opportunity for any major.”
That focus on interdisciplinary work, Hull said, has remained with him as one of the most important aspects of this program.
The program is currently open to students in Whitworth’s Honors program, and Sugano encouraged eligible students to apply.
“For a university student, this is probably one of the best resume builders you can have. This is something on a resume that every employer will notice and talk about,” Sugano said.