by Kiran Riar
My senior year of college did not go as expected. I anticipated being done with my undergraduate career in May 2011. I tacked on a second major to my degree-in-progress the semester before, and tried to squeeze in as many required classes as I could in the remaining few months. As graduation drew nearer, however, it became clear that I would need to fulfill an additional 6 credits to receive a B.A. in Anthropology.
Although the circumstances were not ideal, I decided that sticking it out another six months was a fair trade-off for finishing undergrad with a double major. I had already agreed to help finish a project at Chucalissa over the summer and hadn’t really given any thought to interning at the museum. For one thing, I didn’t even know what interns did for academic credit. Did they just sit at the front desk? Did they have to know a lot about archaeology? Did they count rocks all day?
When I accepted Dr. Connolly’s offer to intern in Fall 2011, I still wasn’t fully sure what I was getting myself into. Luckily for me, both he and Rachael Bogema, the Administrative Associate spent a lot of time discussing how to best match my talents with the needs of the museum. It was apparent by this time that I was not suited for archaeological work (“Is this lithic? Or historic?”), so we decided I should use my background in communication to expand Chucalissa’s social media presence and public relations materials. I couldn’t have been happier – you can’t beat combining your major interests in one internship.
While I focused primarily on Twitter concerns and fundraiser promotion, another intern, Tricia, spent her time at the museum working with collections in the repository. As a student who liked biological anthropology, she was able to tailor her internship to match her strengths while gaining valuable knowledge on managing inventory. Other internships have led to creating important programs and exhibits at the Museum. These products include the Stone Tools program, geological banners, audio tour, and African American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis exhibit – all resulting in part of completely from student internships.
While Chucalissa’s size lends itself to many opportunities not available at larger institutions, such as allowing an intern to standardize public relations procedures, it also means all staff must remain flexible about their responsibilities. I quickly realized I would be learning a great deal not only about my area of focus, but also about museum operations in general. Interns – along with graduate assistants and administrative staff – must devote part of their time to customer service and front desk operations. This means that in addition to your project focus, you must be ready to lead tours, demonstrate the atlatl, troubleshoot the credit card machine, make pottery with 2nd graders, and explain the difference between a Folsom and a Clovis point.
I believe this sharing of responsibility is one of the things that makes Chucalissa great. Even if you find yourself unable to work on your project for half a day, you can be assured no one else is working on theirs either. Unlike some internships, you will not be expected to do “busy work”. Apart from your own assignments, you will be given opportunities to expand your occupational skill set by interacting with visitors and gauging public opinion. Seeing how your job affects their experience at the museum keeps you grounded and helps you gain insight into the importance of nonprofit work. And nothing keeps you as in touch with reality as a group of elementary school kids.
Students can apply for an internship before the start of each semester by contacting the Museum Director, Robert Connolly (firstname.lastname@example.org). Most students come from the Anthropology, Earth Sciences, and History departments, but all students are welcome and encouraged to apply. Contact your advisor if you are interested in possibly earning credit through the museum. If, like me, you are approaching this as an Anthropology undergrad, you can find more information here under the heading ANTH 4970.
Hope to see some of you as interns in the coming semester! Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.
Kiran Riar, former intern and current on the visitor services staff at the C.H. Nash Museum