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Emily Willis is an undergraduate student who has been interning with us at the Museum of Aviation for the past few weeks. Here are a few of her thoughts about that time:

Anyone who can stop right now and say that they knew what thy wanted to be once they graduated high school has my envy. From childhood, my “what I want to be when I grow up” speech has never been consistent. I have gone through actress, district attorney, librarian, author, secretary, teacher, and now finally (as my senior year of college is fast approaching) I have decided on museum curator.

Emily Willis

But of course, there was a lingering bit of doubt: What if I changed my mind again?

I had an internship lined up for the second summer semester at GeorgiaCollegeand StateUniversity, but it was in the archives/special collections department of our school library, and that’s not quite the type of museum work I could envision myself doing. Also, due to the way our school schedules fell, I had two whole months before I could even begin that internship—and that was two months I felt were going to be wasted doing absolutely nothing.

I wanted to make use of my time. In doing so, I took a gamble, and emailed the curator of theMuseumofAviation, not expecting anything to come of it. Imagine my surprise when I received an email back—opening up a dialogue that would eventually lead to my interning here!

Curator Mike Rowland and Intern Emily Willis talk about an artifact.

I had no idea what would lie before me—what would be required of me—but it didn’t matter. I was going to be an intern, and suddenly the few months in between spring and summer semesters didn’t seem to be worth dreading after all.

And I was right.

From the moment I stepped foot into the Heritage Building at the Museum of Aviation, I have felt right at home here with Mike, Bill, Arthur, and Mark. My experiences have been numerous: from assisting Bill and Arthur with the placement of the insignia on the Tuskegee Exhibit, to figuring out how to work a demo Vulcan 20mm cannon with Bill, assisting Mark with exhibit signs, and helping Mike by examining artifacts to consider for de-accessioning. But the satisfaction I feel and the smile on my face that I come home with, tells me the same thing: this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

I’ve learned so much in these two months, that it’s hard to believe it’s just been that short amount of time. When I return to a classroom setting for my senior year of college, I feel as though I will be light years ahead of my fellow public history classmates—I feel experienced and knowledgeable, as though I’ve been here for so much longer than the beginning of May. Suddenly I feel as though I understand my public history classes that I’d taken for the last two semesters, as though all the information that I had absorbed finally found its right moment to click on.

Emily, wearing a replica World War II era parachute, serves as a stand in to test lighting for photos at the Museum.

Something that I’ve always known in the back of my mind—which is why, I tell myself, I sent that first email here to Mike to begin with—is that life is all about theory and practice. Both are needed to be successful, but up until now, I was only seeing the theory, the intellectual side. In a classroom, I could sit there with other students and talk about the theories behind preservation, about how to properly conduct business, how to correctly de-accession and accession artifacts into a collection, and how to put an exhibit in place. The intellectual framework was in place, but there was still that gap in between theory and reality and that gap was what my time at the museum has helped to fill. What I have learned here at the museum is the practice—the process of going beyond the intellectual means of simply telling and actually doing, while still keeping the theories in mind. Mike, Bill, Mark and Arthur have taken me under their wings and taught me more than any textbook or guest speaker will ever be able to communicate in this regard. They have been here to answer any questions I have had, to help me to think outside the box, to show me just how many hats they all wear and how flexible I will have to be. For that, I will always be eternally grateful.

I leave in a few days, and while it is a sad thought, there is a sense of pride behind that sadness.

I go into my senior year feeling more confident than I think I have ever approached a semester at college; knowing that these two months spent with the Collections Department have been the most valuable moments of experience I have had thus far.

And I know that when I leave, I will miss them all.

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