Training the next generation of history professionals is a win win
The National VA History Center (NVAHC) currently has a staff of just two full-time employees. Senior Archivist, Robyn Rodgers, and I make up the team, but we have accomplished some important work through interns and graduate assistants. Amy Ackman was our first graduate assistant. Amy came to us through the Public History program at Wright State University. During her time at the NVAHC, she managed the Covid artifact acquisition project, and she inventoried the initial objects acquired for the collection. Amy inventoried approximately 700 objects during her assistantship. She also accessioned the covid objects into the collection and put them in proper storage boxes.
Here are some of Amy’s thoughts on the COVID project and her time at the History Center.
“The size and scope of the VA presented challenges to collecting COVID artifacts and documents. As an intern there was a steep learning curve towards understanding the multiple aspects of the VA. Luckily, the method of sharing information through SharePoint allowed for eager employees to contribute their history and stories quickly. These enthusiastic donors provided valuable materials and information. I learned a remarkable amount concerning how the VA operates and what they provide—all coming from those who provide it. In reciprocation, I was able to express to them what the VA History Office offers and allowed them to see their submitted items in a new light.” Amy
Intern Olivia Holly-Johnson then utilized Amy’s work, making the COVID related objects available through an online exhibit (CLICK: COVID19 ARTIFACT EXHIBIT). Olivia served as an intern through the Virtual Student Federal Internship (VSFS) program, where students work remotely on projects for federal agencies. History programs in the three VA administrations utilize VSFS interns to write articles, perform research, conduct oral interviews, and develop exhibits. Interns have contributed to many VA history projects including the 100 objects initiative: History of VA in 100 Objects - VA History Office.
Oliva shares her experience below.
“I was able to accomplish a broader scope of work during this internship than I initially thought I would. This is due to the fantastic supervisors that I worked with over the course of the academic year. In the very beginning, my primary supervisor, Jeff Seiken, and I had a meeting to discuss my academic interests and how they might align with work going on within the VA History Office. Due to my interest in museum curating and archival work, Jeff allowed me to work with Robyn Rodgers, the senior archivist, and Kurt Senn, the curator, after working for a semester on the History of the VA in 100 Objects project. These opportunities gave me a chance to grow my skillset and discover more things that I was interested in and could potentially turn into a career one day. I was very grateful that I was able to customize my experience so much and take creative liberty with the work that I produced. This creative liberty was primarily accomplished through the digital exhibit that I created in coordination with Kurt Senn and Katie Rories, VHA Historian, using the COVID-19 collection of artifacts. This was an incredible opportunity to learn new how to use a new program as well as work with a collection that had not been used before. I gained a new appreciation for the work that goes into digital exhibits, and I hope to do more work with them in the future.” Olivia
VA History is supported by talented students, who are preparing themselves for careers in public service. We in turn pass on our years of knowledge and experience to the next generation. It is very rewarding to see students grow as they are given opportunities to contribute. This is truly a win-win for the students and the history center.
By Kurt Senn, Curator, National VA History Center