Intern Spotlight: Kristen @ Smithsonian American Art Museum

We’ll be starting a new series on the blog profiling students who have had internships/volunteer positions at museums in the area and beyond. First up is second year MA student Kristen Korfitzen. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself 

My name is Kristen, I’m 26 years old, and I’m in my second to last semester in the program. I’m originally from Long Island, NY and I received my AAS from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Fashion Merchandising and Management  and my BA from George Mason in Art History. I am primarily an Americanist focusing on the first half the of the 20th century, but I’m also interested in early 20th century European painting and sculpture, and Fashion history.

How did you come to be an intern at the Smithsonian American Art Museum?

Our graduate advisor Professor Ellen Wiley Todd sent out an email early in the semester that the internship coordinator at SAAM (Judith Holloman) was looking to fill two intern positions. I contacted Professor Todd that I would  be interested in either position and she recommended me to Judith. I had a phone interview and was then offered a position.

What are/were your responsibilities as an intern?

I was placed in the education department as a research assistant on Project 100. Project 100 identified 100+ works of art in the museum’s collection that were under researched. The goal of Project 100 was to provide as much historical and cultural context as possible which would then be used to construct an internal Wiki for the museum. This information would then be available to curatorial and education staff.

When I first began my internship I was responsible for assisting the contract researchers. This involved everything from mining the Archives of American art and the curatorial files, to scanning book chapters, to contacting other museums for information. Due to time constraints I was asked to research a work of art on my own and create a Wiki page. The head of the project really liked what I did so I was given more pieces to work on, and ended up authoring two more wiki pages.

What surprised you about the experience?

I was very surprised how “small” the staff was at SAAM and how interconnected all the departments are. During my time there (about 6 months) I think I met almost everyone there. I also worked very closely with the library staff and the staff at the Archives of American art. Everyone was very welcoming to the interns and really treated them like fellow employees. I never felt like my work wasn’t valued or that I was expendable when I was there. I thought that at such a big museum interns might just get lost in the crowd, but it was the total opposite.

What are your future plans?

This summer I’m going to begin work on my MA Thesis which will hopefully be done by December 2013. After graduation I would love to continue working in museum education. I really enjoyed my time at SAAM and it would be wonderful to find a similar postion. Eventually I plan to pursue my PhD continuing either in American Art or Costume and Textiles. But that’s a long way down the road…

What advice would you give to other students looking for an internship?

Talk with your professors. The professors at George Mason are wonderful resources! Most of them have been working in the DC area for a long time and have many connections with different museums. They can also help you tailor your resume and cover letters to specific positions. If you are lucky enough to get an internship, make sure you collect as many business cards and email addresses as you can! I came out of my internship with a couple of great work references. Also if the museum you’re interning for sponsors intern activities, definitely attend as many as you can. I learned some great things about applying for museum jobs, and just general museum information, from attending the intern workshops at SAAM.

Lastly, apply to as many internships as you can. Internships are a way for you can find out what you really want to do after graduation, meet people, and gain valuable work skills. Never assume you’re unqualified for a particular internship, they’re all about learning on the job.

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