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Training Future Leaders: Lessons Learned from the National Guard Memorial Museum’s Intern Program

by Anne C. Armstrong, Deputy Director, National Guard Educational Foundation on

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Photo via www.ngef.org

The National Guard Memorial Museum is a 6,000 square foot series of galleries located in Washington, D.C., dedicated to telling the history of the National Guard of the United States.  More than a thousand artifacts are on exhibit.  However, behind the scenes there is a vast collection of artifacts ranging from the 17th Century to present day.  With a small staff of two, managing this collection is quite an ambitious endeavor!  In 2013, the National Guard Educational Foundation began looking for ways to make collections management more practical.

Now, the Intern Program at the National Guard Memorial Museum is entering its 4th successful year with over a dozen interns having passed through our artifact room!  What started as a small initiative to expand the staff through volunteerism quickly grew into a program designed to educate and support students of Museum Studies in the local area.  Initially, we had to determine what schools in the area offered programs that would meet our needs.  Because we are in the nation’s capital, we had several locations from which to choose.

The George Washington University and George Mason University have been the two most successful academic resources.  Once the students began to arrive, we had to create a place for them to work.  Our museum collection had never been placed into PastPerfect, so we gave the interns their own workstations and network accounts.  We quickly discovered that too many interns made for a tight squeeze.  The largest growing pain we had to suffer through was an abundance of help.  After learning our lesson, we limited our intern cohorts to one or two students.

ngef_staff_at_quanticoThere was very little difficulty getting them familiar with our story, our system, and our artifacts.  However, we did have to do a little soul-searching to really understand the concept of what we call “the two-way street.”  What exactly was ~our~ role in this new program?  After four years and over a dozen students, we distilled our role to teaching them to be professionals in the Museum field – no matter what branch they choose to pursue.

Most of their work here is in collection management, and to give back to them from an educational standpoint, we asked them to be courteous, prompt, and appropriately dressed – things that should be standard in any professional environment.  Beyond that, however, we offered them the opportunity to do their own exhibits which meant flexing their muscles with time management, creativity, taking initiative, artifact selection, label writing, and artifact arrangement.  All this had to be their own responsibility.  To be sure, we work with the interns and are ready to help at a moment’s notice.

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Photo via www.ngef.org

Since 2013, we’ve had several really successful temporary exhibits and the students received the advantage of a little something unique to add to their resumes.  Feedback from both the staff and the public has been universally positive and the students’ interesting and unique views take what could be a stale “same-old, same-old” array of artifacts and narratives to a whole new level!  Most agree that the best part of their stay here is working with the stories behind each artifact – talking about the item and how it fits into the history of the National Guard of the United States.  Overall, the Intern Program at the National Guard Memorial Museum has been a wonderful success and we look forward to keeping it going for many years to come.

 

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