Today our series highlighting Bethel History majors engaged in internships continues with Jon Steen (’12), who spent his first summer after graduating from Bethel as an intern with the Scott County Historical Society, in Shakopee, MN. This fall Jon will be tutoring elementary schoolchildren in Brooklyn Park, MN as a member of the Minnesota Reading Corps.
Why’d you decide to major in History? (At what point did you make that decision?)
I decided to become a history major because of the influence of a couple of teachers in high school: Mr. Eibs and Mr. Mahlum. They both taught American history. Although American history is not really my area of interest, it was how they taught history that raised my interest. They taught me more than just facts; they taught me how to examine the past, recreate it into a story, and make these stories become valuable life lessons. As I have gone through schooling at Bethel, this conviction to take on the challenge of history was taken to the next level. The professors at Bethel took the subject away from simple objective data and turned it into what history is really about: learning about the past to shape the present and the future. The more I have looked into history, I have realized the less that I know and can know. This is not a depressing thought. Rather it is an exciting one! I am a very subjective thinker, so I am sure that what we know from the past is probably not completely true. Some of it may be, but history is really not about factual truth, it is about the human experience. That is what I got out of my history major at Bethel, and I have absolutely no regrets about choosing this major.
How did you become a summer intern with the Scott County Historical Society?
I became an intern at the Scott County Historical Society by finding them at a job fair in Minneapolis. An internship at a library or a museum was high on my list of possible jobs to work. It was up there not for pay, but for something far more valuable: experience. My thinking was that by pursuing an internship in one of these institutions I can add to my future resume and also my grad school applications. Fortunately, all the pieces came together with this internship. The Scott County Historical Society was looking for two interns to redo an exhibit about Africa that they had. Now, I know what you are thinking, for I have been asked this question a ton of times. Why would a local county historical society have an exhibit on Africa? Here’s the short answer: Maurice Stans, who was born in Shakopee (where the museum is located), was the Secretary of Commerce under Nixon. He travelled to the continent of Africa on 19 occasions! He was the one who donated the money for the museum, so the exhibit is a tribute to his trips.
What advice would you have for our majors who are looking for internships?
If you are looking for an internship like this, my advice would be to keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when the perfect opportunity may open up like it did for me. Another tip is to be optimistic. You won’t get every job you want, so don’t take it personally if they don’t accept you. Keep looking forward, and find jobs and/or internships in which your strengths match. This will make you more eligible and more worthy of hire.
What kind of work have you had the chance to do as a local historical society intern? What’s most exciting or enjoyable about it? What’s challenging?
I have had two responsibilities this summer. One is to create a small display at the Scott County Government Center. It essentially served as an advertisement for the Historical Society. The curator and director gave me all the space I needed to come up with my own idea for the display and to gather all of the information and artifacts. They also talked me through the process and gave me advice whenever I needed it. The display itself was on the history of transportation in Scott County, focusing on the rivers, rails, and roads. It is currently on display, so if you want to, go check it out! The other responsibility is the larger display I mentioned earlier about Maurice Stans and Africa.
What is fun about the internship is digging through archives, accessing items through the database, and the research involved. It is really exciting to be doing the research and knowing that people will view it someday. It is better than a paper because it is taking a three-dimensional form and is for the public, not just for a teacher. Making it for the public is challenging, though. What the curator told me when I started is that I essentially have to write like an eighth grader. I have had to take the ideas that I have researched and simplify them to the point where they everyone can understand them. It is also challenging to write in the active tense. This goes completely against my training as a historian to write passively, but active language is far more engaging then passive language, so it should be used in museums.
Do you see yourself doing similar work as a career? Has the internship experience influenced your thinking about work and education in the coming years?
I could see myself doing similar work, but on a larger scale. One career path I am considering is being a travelling curator throughout Africa, building databases and helping establish displays in Africa itself. I think that would be cool. Another though I’ve had is teaching in some capacity. If I am going to teach, I will be doing a similar process to writing the text in a museum: I will be taking difficult and complex ideas and boiling them down into the most simple and understandable concepts. With either of these possible future options (which could change completely into something unexpected), the internship is a beginning for me to realize what I could be doing in ten years. I am currently considering grad schools and would hopefully start fall 2013, which might lead to a PhD. I just have no concrete ideas on where I feel like I am heading, but hopefully the internship will continue to shape where I am going and what I am going to do.