History, Art, and Hard Work
The chance to intern at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art has made this summer one to remember for Erin Benz ’16.
When she applied to the Comegys Bight Fellowship Program for a summer internship, Erin Benz ’16, an American studies major, chose the Smithsonian Museum of American Art out of a desire to combine her interests. “I am very interested in art history and American history, so applying to Smithsonian American Art sounded like the perfect idea,” she says.
The Comegys Bight Fellowship Program, offered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, is designed to give exceptional students the chance to intern at some of the nation’s leading historical and cultural institutions. Fellows are selected based on their academic and personal performance and, in addition to the internship itself, are expected to write a paper and give several oral presentations detailing their summer experience.
At the Smithsonian, Benz splits her time between two separate offices. The first is the museum’s Public Programs Office, where she helps to organize and record data for programs like the Take 5! jazz concert and monthly Family Day. The second is the Luce Foundation Center, where she works at the help desk, updates social media, designs scavenger hunts, and creates talks to give as part of a guided tour for guests.
While the professional experience and chance to exercise her creativity have been good for Benz, her favorite part of work at the Smithsonian was the chance it gave her to see the parts of the museum’s collection that are kept in storage. “It was a great privilege to see artwork that the general public can’t see,” she says. In addition, she has a backstage pass to the Smithsonian’s collection to museums: “As a Smithsonian employee, I am allowed access into the world’s largest museum and research complex. I get to see how museums that have to cater to millions of people each year are run and what is needed to make this institution operate smoothly.”
She’s only a junior, but Benz is already thinking ahead to her future. She plans to attend graduate school, with a focus on art history, and will most likely return to museum work once she graduates. Even if those plans change, though, Benz is still confident that she’ll be just fine. “Many full-time employees at the Smithsonian have received jobs, both at the institution and other places thanks to summer internships, so I have confidence that I’ll be able to get many job offers,” she says.