At NMAH, the goal of our internship program is to support and shape the future of museums by providing meaningful and inclusive professional learning experiences that promote equitable access to the field.
Providing supportive professional learning experiences is foundational to any internship at NMAH. We also believe equitable access is a crucial component that helps diversify and strengthen our field.
Equity: What Do We Mean?
The NMAH Internship Program defines equity in accordance with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) as "the fair and just treatment of all members of a community." Ensuring equity requires acknowledging and respecting that people have different needs and taking action to meet those needs.
In order to ensure equitable access, our internship program is dedicated to identifying and addressing systemic barriers to the museum field. This work is and will continue to be ongoing, and we are happy to provide updates about our process as we continue to improve our efforts.
Solution 1: Financial Access
For decades, unpaid internships have been prevalent in museums, and the Smithsonian is no different. However, just because something has happened for a long time doesn't make it right, and unpaid internships create a systematic high financial barrier for many potential interns who need financial support for basic living costs incurred during an internship. These costs can include housing, food, commuting, travel to and from DC, technology, healthcare, childcare, etc.
With this in mind, in 2020, we instated our equitable internship stipends process as an integral part of our program at NMAH. These stipends are available to all interns based on their self-disclosed level of need, dependent on available museum funding. This allows for people who would otherwise be excluded from the museum field to be able to meaningfully participate in a professional learning experience, establishing and building upon a foundation of museum practice for the future.
Solution 2: Transparent, Inclusive Recruitment
Like so many other fields, the museum field has historically been very exclusive, and recruitment processes for internship programs have contributed to that exclusivity. With this in mind, the NMAH Internship Program created a more transparent recruitment process, including step-by-step instructions, clear internship postings, online webinars, and application review guidance for internship mentors. All applicants, unless applying through a pilot program or an official partnership, are required to apply through our standard application process, rather than through individual nomination, so that every applicant gets a fair chance at review.
We are also in the process of redeveloping connections with various colleges, universities, and organizations. This is to ensure that our partnerships are serving our program’s goals of equity, access, and inclusion for diverse audiences and that we are reaching out to and earning the trust of communities who have historically been excluded from the museum field in general and from our museum itself. (Speaking of, want to stay up-to-date about our internship recruitment? Sign up with your email here!)
Solution 3: Individualized Internship Support
Of course getting folks "in the door" is a critical first step to shaping the future of the museum field and museum leadership, yet it is only one part in ensuring equitable access. The important next step in ensuring equitable access is providing interns with the support that they individually need during their internship experiences.
First, all NMAH interns have access to intern workshops as well as one-on-one sessions geared towards their individual professional growth on topics such as typical resumes, federal applications, cover letters, email etiquette, networking, job interviews, navigating workplace cultures and conflicts, planning a career based on one's strengths, and more. Interns are also encourated to participate in informational interviews with colleagues around the museum and get coaching on how best to prepare. All of these options are voluntary and can be catered towards each intern's individual needs, allowing for interns with various levels of professional experience to be best prepared for success during and after their internship.
Second, through the NMAH Internship Program, our internship mentors have access to training, resources, and one-on-one coaching with the NMAH Interns & Fellows Program Manager to make sure that our mentors are well-equipped to support their interns in accomplishing their learning goals.
Third, at the start of 2021, the NMAH Internship Program also launched the NMAH Internship Alumni Network, which connects intern alums with job opportunities in the field and events around the Smithsonian, continuing to maintain and grow the relationship between the museum and our intern alums.
Key Program: GPEP Alumni Internship
NMAH is the proud host of the Goucher College Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) Alumni Internship Program, which serves as a model for creating equitable access for communities historically excluded from the museum field. In this program, which is specifically designed for formerly incarcerated students and alumni of GPEP, interns gain professional experience through museum placements that support their future careers. In addition to the typical support that is available to all NMAH interns, GPEP interns receive specific professional development opportunities and equitable stipends that address the different needs of individuals who have been formerly incarcerated in order to support their reintegration into a professional community.
In December 2021, we complete our initial pilot phase for this program. During the pilot phase, we have hosted five interns for year-long professional experiences across the museum. We look forward to hosting two more year-long internships in 2022 and continuing to grow the program in both our approach and our practice. Please check out our webpage on the Center for Restorative History website learn more about the GPEP Alumni Internship Program!