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The Art of Being an Intern

by Callie McCune, Intern at the Indiana Historical Society on

A few years ago, I was at my internship at the Raupp Museum, a small historical society in suburban Chicago, when my supervisor returned from an off-site school visit. “Rapunzel has sprung another leak,” she said. “We’re down to one udder.” This meant only one thing: it was time to pull out the bottle of liquid latex and make some repairs.

Rapunzel is a four-foot tall papier-mâché cow, lovingly created by volunteers quite a few years ago. She routinely travels to various schools in the area to teach 3-6 year olds about our community’s dairy farming roots and farm chores. Pour some water into the removable udder and voilà; any preschooler can learn to “milk” a cow. For her age, Rapunzel has held up quite well, with only one loose leg and a rather stubborn udder. And therefore, for the past few years, a perpetual summer intern project has been to re-latex the udders.

Latexing a cow udder is not the strangest task I have been asked to complete as an intern. As an aspiring museum educator, I can cite a myriad of examples from the six unique internship experiences I have completed over the past five years. And who hasn’t asked their intern to teach a high school student to accurately throw an atlatl at pygmy dinosaurs, create festive pie-themed headwear, become an expert at exploding model magic volcanoes, or (the perpetual favorite) master the art of setting up tables and chairs?

I list these tasks partially in jest, but also as a comparison to my current “job” as a graduate student. Graduate school is kind of a magical place where I am pushed to question, criticize, and critique. Poised on the edge of graduation, I am confident in my ability to think like a historian, to research any topic imaginable, and communicate my ideas. My training has reinforced the big ideas that I want to accomplish and given me the optimism to believe I can make them happen.

However, my six unique internship experiences over the past five years have given me a healthy dose of the “real world.” I have been fortunate enough to land positions with fantastic supervisors who have entrusted me to facilitate their school programs, develop lesson plans, and participate in the formation of policies and procedures. At the same time, I have been exposed to the realities of my field. This profession is filled with messy hierarchies, debates of mission versus money, and difficulties attracting audiences and visitors.

As emerging professionals, we often grapple with this intersection between praxis and theory, of the best practices we are taught to follow and the actualities of the professional world. As a new graduate, I come armed with an arsenal of innovative ideas and a determination to make them happen. At the same time, I realize that change is slow and memories are long. On the precipice of starting my career, my internships have taught me that doing history is rewarding, but often messy. And that sometimes you just need to be willing to re-latex a cow udder.

Callie McCune is a graduate student at Indiana University- Purdue University, Indianapolis in Public History, where she is slogging through the final chapters of her master’s thesis on the Indianapolis City Market. An aspiring museum educator, she is currently completing an internship in the Education and Community Engagement Department at the Indiana Historical Society.

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