History students gain insight through internships

September 22, 2014
Cody Grabhorn
Matt Smaga

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Two University of Wisconsin-Platteville history students recently had the opportunity to participate in internships that enabled them to apply the knowledge they had learned in their history courses and gain insight and practical work experience in their chosen careers.

Cody Grabhorn, a senior history and political science major from Brownsville, Minn., completed historical research during an internship with Taliesin Preservation Inc. and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, in Spring Green, Wis.

Matt Smaga, a senior social science with a history emphasis and secondary education major from Palatine, Ill., served as a program intern at the Chicago History Museum in Chicago, Ill.

From May 22 through Aug. 15, Grabhorn worked with the preservation team and collections manager at Taliesin Preservation Inc., which, in partnership with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, conserves the buildings and landscapes of Taliesin, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s 600-acre estate.

One of Grabhorn’s responsibilities was to help complete research on one of the rooms at Taliesin that the group is restoring to its historic 1950’s appearance. Grabhorn used old photographs to determine where to place furniture and other objects as well as to see which items the group had in storage. He also made a database of records of decisions made by the group from 2010-present, completed condition reports for items that had not been viewed and documented the stone foundation of one of the buildings on the estate.

“Working with Taliesin Preservation Inc. and the foundation gave me insight into Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural philosophy as well as his philosophy about life,” said Grabhorn. “After serving in this internship, I am very interested in being involved with students in higher education. While I enjoy historical preservation, I really love the aspect of completing historical research and conveying those facts and ideas to others – sharing my appreciation of history with others.”

“Cody approached us, which led us to develop a position description for this unpaid internship,” said Ryan Hewson, Taliesin preservation planning and project coordinator. “We are very grateful for the time and effort that Cody devoted to Taliesin this summer. With his help, we were able to complete some projects that otherwise would not have gotten the attention they needed. We are very pleased with the work and with being able to share the discipline of historic preservation with someone who is just starting on his path in life.”

From June through August, Smaga served as a school program intern at the Chicago History Museum, which cares for, showcases and interprets millions of authentic pieces of Chicago and United States history, including photographs, drawings, diaries, letters, costumes, textiles, sound recordings, films, books, newspapers, furniture and more.

In this position, Smaga was responsible for planning and carrying out a variety of arts and crafts activities for approximately 5,000 children ages Pre-K through eighth grade that were visiting the museum with their schools. Students were from the Chicago Park District, Chicago and various suburbs surrounding Chicago.

Each week, the arts and crafts activities reflected the special theme for that week. The first week, themed “Railroads in Chicago,” Smaga helped the students make their own engineer hats. The second week, themed “Rhythm and Blues,” he helped them make musical shakers out of paper plates and plastic beads.

Smaga also planned and implemented the Summer Youth Series, which involved planning and conducting arts and crafts activities followed by musical performances by Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music performers. In addition, he wrote a gallery and exhibit guide to give school counselors ideas about how school activities could be linked to the exhibits and researched activities and speakers for high school symposium exhibits.

“I love sharing and bringing history to the public,” said Smaga. “The internship gave me hands-on experience planning and figuring out the best ways to go about teaching and sharing history with Pre-K through elementary age students, which was a new experience for me. I really enjoyed carrying out the project and seeing the plans I had helped create come to fruition.”

“Our Youth Summer Series is an important annual program serving as a kick off to summer where we shift from field trip visits to informal day camp groups,” said Megan Clark, school programs coordinator at the Chicago History Museum. “Matt was a great collaborator on the projects he worked on and we appreciate all his hard work this summer in providing kids with a great day at the museum.”

After Smaga graduates from UW-Platteville, he would like to become a high school history teacher. He is also considering doing more work at history museums because of the positive experience he had this past summer at the museum.

After Grabhorn graduates from UW-Platteville, he would like to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees in history and eventually become a professor, writer and researcher.

Contact: Tracey Roberts, department of history, (608) 342-6159, robertstr@uwplatt.edu
Written by: Connie Spyropoulos, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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