Before recruiting interns, museum staff need to assess what types of work is to be done in the coming months, as well as the groundwork to be laid, before sending out the word to recruit students. Because internships are supposed to be learning experiences for the students, they need to involve projects and aspects of organizations that will develop interns’ skills and add to their body of knowledge while helping the museum. Ideally, intern assignments will be stand-alone projects that interns can complete within the prescribed time of the internship. When this is not possible, identify a phase or portion of a project so that the intern can complete something tangible and reach a good stopping point. However, it may be unrealistic to expect a summer intern to plan, execute, and wrap up a major program in the eight to ten weeks that summer internships normally span.
Examine all aspects of the museum: Collections, education, exhibits, marketing, fundraising, and grounds work can open the possibilities for a well-fitting match with a student in a program that is not directly related to your museum's area of focus. For instance, a student majoring in computer science could help a museum revamp its website. If possible, identify several projects and brainstorm all the possible academic links before contacting colleges and universities.
Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine if your brainstormed list is realistic:
- How long of an internship will be required for both training and task execution?
- What, if any, specialized knowledge is required?
- Does the museum have the staff time to train the intern in that knowledge?
- Does the museum have the staff and time to supervise the intern effectively?
- Does the project meet the museum’s strategic goals?
- What skills does the intern need to have already in order to complete the project?
- What skills will the intern gain from this project?
In addition to an overarching project, both organization and student often find it mutually beneficial if the internship also involves aspects of daily operations. Part of working for a small organization includes wearing many hats, and incorporating day-to-day activities into the internship increases the educational value for the student and benefits the organization. An intern’s main project can be an aspect of daily operations, such as serving visitors, because the intern still gets the experience of working with the public and making history relevant to modern patrons. The key to including daily operations in an internship is conveying that information up front, ideally in both a written job description and the initial interview.
Once you have identified one or more possible intern projects, contact area colleges and universities to investigate their requirements and ask about their system for internships.
Amanda Wesselmann was previously the associate director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum an she has supervised and trained volunteers and interns for over seven years. She has worked in almost all areas of the museum field over the past nine years, including education, volunteer coordination, exhibit fabrication, collections, development, and administration.