Student helps 'steward the American experience'

Geri Massengale
University Communications intern
Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 10:15am

Amy Holm starts her day commuting on the Foggy Bottom Metro in Washington, D.C., watching grand and historical architecture zoom past and remembering the last time she was on that Metro with her family. So much has changed since fourth grade, when her mother whisked her and her siblings off into a motor home to travel the country, telling them she was uncertain when they would return to their home in California.

That year, Holm and her family traveled to 47 states, stopping at each state’s historical locations and forging a deep-seated love for American history. That love has come full circle, as Holm is spending her summer on an internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Holm is working within one of the busiest offices at the museum, the Office of Public Affairs, which is the first line of communication for members of the media looking for an interview or for more information about the museum’s history and its exhibits. Like most interns, Holms takes phone calls, conducts research and compiles reports. But the internship also provides Holm with plenty of hands-on experience in her particular field of study, journalism/public relations, as well as fascinating work outside the Office of Public Affairs itself.

Omar Eaton-Martinez, the Intern and Fellows Program manager at the Smithsonian, says the museum prides itself on providing its interns an experience unlike any in the nation. NMAH recruits 175 students each summer from a variety of academic and cultural backgrounds to contribute to the museum’s historical research, public programs, collections and exhibitions. NMAH houses more than 3 million artifacts and welcomes 4.5 million visitors a year. Eaton-Martinez says the summer internship is by far the most competitive to get into.

“We are stewards of the American experience. We tell the [nation’s] story through objects,” says Eaton-Martinez. “When students come to work at different aspects of the museum, such as with a curator, public programs, public affairs, IT or new media, they’re partnered with the best of the best.”

In her first week on the job, Holm worked on the museum’s Clint Eastwood Film Festival, helping make sure special guests were interviewed by the right media person. During that event she met actors Frances Fisher and Saul Rubineck, two of Eastwood’s co-stars in the film “Unforgiven.” In her third week, she wrote her first press release, about an exhibit opening in September; then she held a private tour of the museum for the Nelson Brothers, a pair of American hard-rock musicians, introducing them to historical and iconic gems such as Lance Armstrong's bicycle, Indiana Jones's costume, Oscar's trash can from Sesame Street, an array of Emmy and Grammy awards and some original Duke Ellington sheet music.

“[They] were so grateful to us for showing them the museum, and it made me feel even more excited about my work at the Smithsonian and how important it is to preserve the collections for future generations,” Holm says.

Holm’s favorite part of the internship is seeing the artifacts that aren’t on public display.

“The other day I got to work with photographers who wanted to take a picture of a prop from the show 'M*A*S*H,' which happens to be one of my favorite television shows,” she says. “I felt so privileged.”

Holm works closely with the Smithsonian Channel and the museum’s magazine, helping make sure they are fulfilling their goals for the museum.

Holm says one challenge she faces during her internship is the huge learning curve; her piece of advice to future interns is not to sweat it.

“It’s been an eye-opener,” she says. “I’m not expected to know everything. It’s OK to ask questions, and we are encouraged to do so.”

Holm received an email in March stating she had been selected to intern with the Office of Public Affairs at the museum—but what triggered her excitement for her newly established summer plans were the benefits that come with interning at the Smithsonian.

“I realized I was going to have access to the Library of Congress to do research this summer,” she says, “[Now] all I do is flash my badge and I can do research in one of the largest libraries in the country.”

Once the museum finally grows quiet, Holm makes her daily commute back to the George Washington University dorms, where she is staying for the summer. But she isn’t ready for rest; instead she puts on her running shoes and lets her feet lead her to the Washington Monument and then the Lincoln Memorial, literally running through history. For a while she is not a senior in college or an intern, but a kid again, crossing the borders of the old and new.


Amy Holm, a Western Washington University student interning at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., poses for a photo near a section of the famed Berlin Wall. Photo courtesy of Amy Holm