Thursday, May 30, 2013

Museum Internship Guidelines

(Museum Studies program, Central Washington University) 

 May 2013 

(Please note: these guidelines will be revised and updated as appropriate.)


The internship process is a vital component of the Museum Studies program at Central. Each student should secure a range of meaningful experiences exposing her or him to professional practices in museums or related cultural institutions. Ideally, your range of internship experiences will expose you to different components of museum operations, such as collections management, exhibition development, public programs or K-12 museum education.

Six internship credits are required, at forty contact hours per credit, for a total of 240 hours, at a minimum.  Two credits per quarter during the academic year is usually a reasonable strategy; 80 hours amounts to about eight hours per week during a ten week quarter.  During a summer, it might make sense to aim for three or four credits.

Well in advance of the quarter in question, you should consult carefully with the Museum Studies Faculty Advisor (Dr. Auslander) about which internship options make the most sense given your specific academic interests and professional goals. In general, we recommend a student do a mixture of hours at an external museum (such as the Kittitas County Historical Museum, the Yakima Valley Museum,  or the Seattle Art Museum) and some hours at the CWU Museum of Culture and Environment.   A mixture of experiences, in small and large museum settings, often makes sense.

Applying for an Internship

Please be aware that even non-paying internships at many museums are extremely competitive and that you should begin the application process as early as possible. Your  Museum Studies faculty members are happy to advise and help out in this process, but remember that part of the internship experience is learning to take initiative. Consult the museum’s website and locate information on Internships; you may need to look under “Volunteer” or “Education” pages. Don’t be shy about calling the museum up and finding out the application procedure.

Please let your Museum Studies faculty know as soon as possible if we will need to write you a letter of recommendation.  Please be sure we have your updated resume or C.V,, and any other information that will help us make an effective recommendation for you.   We are happy to review your resume and application essay with you.  In some cases, you may be asked to interview for the position; please be sure to present yourself professionally and be ready to articulate clearly your museum interests and background.

If you wish to undertake an internship at the Museum of Culture and Environment, you must also apply in writing, in advance of the quarter in question. It is best, for interns with the Museum Collections Manager (Ms. Lynn Bethke) if you have first taken the Collections Management class, Anth 363 but this is not always required.  There are usually internship opportunities at the MCE emphasizing exhibition development and K-12 education.

Please fill out Central’s Cooperate Education forms, available at
and be sure to submit these and register for the internship credits in Cooperate Education (Anth 490)  in a timely fashion. 

Internship Agreement and Expectations for the Internship

A written internship agreement helps to specify the precise duties you will have as an intern.  Your internship should involve you in substantive work in a museum setting, either “frontstage” or “backstage.” Inevitably, all interns do some mundane tasks, but most of the work should be intellectually challenging and immerse you in a professional setting that will be useful to you in your education and future career. If you do not feel you are being sufficiently trained or challenged, please let your work supervisor and faculty supervisor know so we can collaboratively find better options.

We expect that Museum Studies will strive to do first rate work in their internship, at times “going above and beyond the call of duty.” Remember that a recommendation from a museum work supervisor can be crucial for securing paid employment after graduation and can be very helpful in graduate program admissions.  Your faculty rely heavily on reports from your internship work supervisors in writing our recommendations for employment or graduate admissions.  We understand that you need to balance your regular academic work and internship responsibilities, but whenever possible, please make every effort to meet and surpass your supervisor’s expectations.

Please be sure to keep in close touch with your work supervisor, and confirm regularly if your work is meeting her or his expectations.  Please let your faculty advisor know if you are encountering any challenges or problems during the internship. We are also happy to give feedback on work products in process, such as draft labels or proposed lesson plans.

We advise that you keep a record of your email correspondence with your work supervisor, so that there is clear documentation of the expectations you have attempted to fulfill.

Reporting Process

Please email at the end of each week a report on your activities that week (about 200 words) to your faculty advisor (usually, Prof. Auslander), including the number of hours worked. If your internship is during the academic year, please come to at least one face to face meeting with your faculty supervisor in the middle of the quarter to discuss in person how the internship is going.

At the end of the quarter, please submit a written essay (at least 1500 words)  on your overall internship experience: Did the internship give you direct exposure to issues you have explored through your readings in your Museum Studies classes?  What were the greatest challenges you faced and how well did you overcome those? What skills did you learn and what insights do you gain? What advice would you give for future students interning at this institution and what advice would you give to the host institution?

Please indicate if this report may be shared with your work supervisor or others at the host institution. Your report should include a week by week log of hours worked, so do be sure to record that information week by week.


An important goal of your internship is to develop your Museum Studies portfolio, which may be of great interest to future potential employers or graduate admissions committees. Please archives all your ‘work products’  on an electronic on-line portfolio site, such as       This would include photographs and descriptions of object mounts created, draft exhibition labels, proposed or completed installation designs, K-12 lesson plans, content lists and photographs of traveling trunks, social media outreach work, or any other materials that represent what you have accomplished and learned  “on the job” in museum settings.  

At the end of the quarter, please be sure to meet with your faculty advisor to review your   final report and your on line digital portfolio.

Each spring quarter, students will present on their internship experiences to Museum Studies faculty and students.  Stay tuned for details.


Most students will undertake internships in Washington State. However, we encourage students to explore internship possibilities elsewhere, nationally or internationally. Remember that summer internship applications at major institutions, such as the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC, may be due as early as January.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but will get you started:

(Note that wikipedia has a list of museums in Washington State:

Central/Eastern Washington:

Kititas County Historical Museum (Ellensburg)

Clymer Museum and Gallery (Ellensburg)

Olmstead Place State Park (Ellensburg)

Yakima Valley Museum

Wanapum Heritage Center

Yakima Nation Museum/Heritage Center

Maryhill Museum of Art

Hanford Reach Interpretive Center

Moses Lake Museum and Art Center

Seattle Area

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (University of Washington)

EMP Museum (Experience Museum Project and Science Fiction Museum)

Museum of History and Industry

Seattle Art Museum

Pacific Science Center (Seattle Center)

Wing Luke Museum of the Pacific Asian American Experience

Frye Art Museum

Museum of Flight (Tukwila)

Smithsonian Institution Internships (Washington D.C)

Internships at the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest collection of museums, are highly sought after, but well worth pursuing, especially if you have the ability to spend a summer in Washington D.C. Most are unpaid, but some (such as the minority internship program) provide paid stipends.  Read carefully through the descriptions at:

Please consult your Museum Studies faculty before applying, since we have many contacts in the Smithsonian system.

Note that deadlines for summer internships at the Smithsonian are usually between January and March; check the website for each internship program is make sure you are applying in time!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Teaching the Tourism Installation

We've been thinking about interesting ways to  engage younger visitors in"The Business of Having Fun,"  a newly opened segment of our exhibition," Voices of the River: Life along the Yakima," at the MCE.  Developed primarily by Prof.  J. Hope Amason, this exhibition segment explores the cultural history of tourism along the Yakima River, from the emergence of mass tourism in the early twentieth century (emphasizing pleasure, working class solidarity,  'windshield wilderness') to the rise of "New Economy" tourism over the last couple of decades, emphasizing edification, self-fulfillment, self-distinction, class distinction, and sustainability.

How do we get young people actively engaged with this part of the show, not just reading the labels but coming up with interesting questions and ideas, and perhaps creating content that might be incorporated into the installation?   A few preliminary ideas:

  • "Business" and "Fun". We are hoping to get young people to reflect on the somewhat humorous conjunction in the section title: The Business of Having Fun.  How can "fun" be a 'business" for some people?  Who makes money from tourism? Who are the relatively winners and losers, economically, from tourism?  More sophisticated young viewers might be introduced to the dichotomy of 'work' and 'leisure' in American culture, and the ways in which, historically,  industrialization and the formal organization of tourism were so intimately linked.
  • The Multi-Pocketed Vest. The vest on the wall might stimulate some conversation: what might a fisherperson keep in his or her pockets while on the river? This could lead into a conversation about fishing licenses (might be nice to have a mock or expired fishing license to pass around), and in turn to a broader conversation about responsible use of natural resources along the river.
  • The Pilgrimage Component. One small section urges readers to think about the overall structure of the tourist journey in terms of the classic three part structure of pilgrimage (a variation of the classic tripartite structure of any rite de passage: separation. liminality, re-integration.) So one option might be explain verbally the Van Gennep/Turnerian concept of the three part rite of passage, and then give young visitors a piece of paper divided in three sections, in which they would draw, or write out, how the three stages work for a touristic trip they make take.  For instance, "Separation" might involve physically leaving one's normal settings and changing the kinds of clothing one wears;  "Liminality" (the hardest concept to communicate) might involve a novel set of behaviors (on the beach, out in nature, in the car during a long trip), and Re-integration would involve listing or drawing all the behaviors to which one returns, post-journey
  •  The Photography Component.  We also have a small segment, inspired by Marianne Hirsch's book "Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory' (along with Sontag, Barthes, et al) on the ritual functions of photography during touristic journeys.  We are hoping people will share with us examples of family vacation photography, and that these images might stimulate conversations among visitors about how such images are posed and framed, and they kinds of emotional meanings they convey post-journey.  This conversation could be related to the Pilgrimage/Rite of Passage section that proceeds Photography: in what ways do photographic snaps (hard copies or digital images) taken during vacations in effect crystallize experiences of the 'liminal' which can be subsequently accessed post-vacation to give viewers a revitalizing dose of the experience of being 'betwixt and between'? 
  • Sustainable Tourism. One window evokes a segment of the river with litter (a Coke bottle, crushed up beer can, etc).  Young viewers could be asked to describe the kind of litter and environmental damage that can result from tourism, and articulate more responsible practices by tourism.
  • The Raft.  A life size, blown up raft in the middle of gallery will open up some interesting possibilities, we hope, for conversations about water safety,  techniques for negotiating white water, etc.  As soon as we create some cloth fish (that can be fished via poles with magnets), we hope that this will lead to children's activities identifying the species of fish that they 'catch and release."
  • The "Fly Fishing" window.  One window explains a bit about fly fishing and the importance of knowing the seasonal habits and life cycles of different flies on the river, if one is to engage in successful fly fishing. Presumably older viewers could be engaged in conversation about entomology, about casting techniques, etc.
  • Social Class and "Distinction". We had been hoping to inspire some critical reflection on social class, but aren't sure if children had sufficiently internalized the 'rules of the game' to articulate the different class orientations of various kinds of tourism. We could perhaps have some visual learning aids that demonstrate the costs of different kinds of leisure activities on the river, from tubing, to canoe rental, to fly fishing.
  • Indigenous issues.  We are puzzling over this issue. The core part of the exhibition Voices of the River is strong on indigenous issues, emphasizing indigenous perspectives on the river, on the spiritual purity of water, on the restoration of sockeye salmon and of wapato tubers. But in its current form, there aren't Native Voices in the tourism section. Should we actively try to promote conversation about the ways in which mainstream tourism has been a kind of colonial practice, obscuring indigenous histories and presences along the river? Should we actively seek to bring in Native commentaries on sustainable tourism and hopes for culturally-sensitive economic development for the tribes?
Other thoughts on lesson plans and educational strategies that would be appropriate for the "Business of Having Fun"?