A Career in the Making?

This week, Trailheads welcomes guest blogger Kristin Kachel, who has just completed a Keystone Internship at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Kristin is a history major, entering her senior year at Emory & Henry College, in Emory, Virginia. Thank you, Kristin, your work this summer and for sharing your thoughts (and photos) with our readers.

At my small school in southwest Virginia, where less than 1,000 undergrads roam between 4 academic buildings, you often have to take what you can get. Despite being in the “History and Social Sciences” track – that is, the only history track available that isn’t focused on preparing students for a future as a schoolteacher – I haven’t had any public history classes, simply because there are none offered. Nor do I have any desire to be a schoolteacher, despite my parents’ dogged insistence on drilling the idea into my head. To be honest, until this summer I had no idea what I wanted to do with my history degree. In the long run I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist (more on that later), but that doesn’t exactly pay the bills. Not only was my future uncertain, but my current job prospects were as bleak as they’ve always been. How to get hired without job experience? How to get job experience if no one will hire you?

Enter my internship with the Education and Outreach Department of the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

My project this summer was to put together IdeaZone, a temporary, hands-on exhibit for children and their families. The exhibit has a different theme every year, and this year’s theme was made with the PHMC’s theme “The Land of Penn and Plenty” in mind. The theme for this year’s IdeaZone is officially titled “Food in PA: From Field to Table.”

I’ve done research on a lot of things in the past few years, but this was definitely one of the more interesting topics. In fact, there was so much to cover that the hard part was narrowing my research down to what I wanted to include in the exhibit! I ended up including agriculture, ethnic contributions, and foods invented in Pennsylvania (or associated with the state) as the main themes. The idea is that Pennsylvania became such a unique place for food because its people, its land and its industry all influence each other. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to really cover industry, and it became represented through several posters on the wall.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I didn’t just do research. My duties included everything from note-taking to setting up and cleaning, and sometimes there were days that were just bizarre. Once we spent a good chunk of the day preparing chocolate to use in a taste-test, which required melting it down and then re-freezing it. We may or may not have dipped pretzels in the leftover melted chocolate. And then there’s today, which I’ve spent dancing in my chair to kids’ songs about food.

This IdeaZone has activities, and games, and things to look at. It has information and areas to play pretend. However, there’s one thing about this IdeaZone that I think makes it a little more unique, and that would be the comics. A giant comic mounted on the wall, about one of the legends of the hard pretzel, greets visitors as they enter the exhibit, and inside the room, little cartoons are scattered about, where a cow, pig, and twin wheat stalks provide bits of trivia. You might recall what I said about wanting to be a cartoonist. I put my job making comics for the school newspaper, The Whitetopper, on my resumé when I applied for the internship, but it seemed to have gone unnoticed until I started doodling comics during my lunch breaks. My supervisor, Cherie, saw an opportunity there, and I was more than happy to make comics for the exhibit. I think that comics, being silly, are more likely to attract kids’ attention, so kids would also be more likely to learn something from them. I always get a big, stupid grin on my face whenever I hear a child in the hallway reading the pretzel comic out loud! (I don’t think they pay much attention to the comics inside the room, but at least they’re there.)

The project wasn’t mine alone. To make it run smoothly, I received help from many other people, including exhibits, other interns, the rest of the education department, and higher-ups whose position titles escape me right now. Another intern, Selina, also made worksheets and put together lists of factory tours so families could take IdeaZone outside the museum and into the rest of Pennsylvania. In the end, it was really a joint effort. It takes everyone’s help to make an exhibit work.

As I sit here typing this, with 4 days left in my internship, I now have a very good idea of what I want to do with my degree. I’m planning to go to graduate school and focus on preparing for a career in a museum, maybe even in the education department. I knew an internship would at least help me narrow down my options, but I had no idea just how much it would! The experience has been wonderful, and I’m grateful I got the chance to do something so fun.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to dancing to “Cooking by the Book”!


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