Students intern at Civil War sites

Historic careers: Students intern at Civil War sites

Eight Gettysburg College students worked on the front lines of American history this summer, completing internships at four National Park Service Civil War sites.

"These internships give our students a unique opportunity to use their expertise in the field and gain experience as professional historians," said Prof. Peter Carmichael, director of the College's Civil War Institute (CWI). "They can engage the public in a dialogue about a conflict that is still relevant today, 150 years later."

"We had a duty and a job to do, which was to make the American story accessible to the public," said Mary Roll '12, an English major and history and Civil War Era studies minor who spent her summer at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

"Visitors came to me with the name, state, and regiment of one of their ancestors and asked me what I could tell them about that person," said Roll, a Chambersburg, Pa. native who is vice president of the Gettysburg College Civil War Club and a CWI fellow. "Seeing the personal and emotional connections that are made when we can provide a shred of information for a visitor, and knowing that I had something to do with putting those pieces together, is an experience that is unparalleled."

Interns created their own 35-minute walking tours, building on what they have learned in the classroom.

"I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the Fredericksburg Visitor Center, as it gave me the opportunity to talk to over 200 people a day, give formal tours that I developed with my own theme, and help visitors have a great battlefield experience," said Becky Oakes '13, a history major and Civil War Era studies minor from Conneaut, Ohio who was assigned to Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania.

Brian Johnson '14, a history and environmental studies double major stationed at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania made a similar point.

"I liked working at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center because I gave a tour of an iconic part of the battlefield, while still offering my own take on a place many visitors know well. However, at the Jackson Shrine (the house where Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson died), I got to interact with some of the most interesting visitors in the park, ranging from Jackson-lovers to the equally passionate Jackson-critics," said Johnson, a member of the 11th Pennsylvania Fife and Drum Corps and CWI research assistant from Saline, Mich.

All the interns agreed that Gettysburg College prepared them well for their time with the National Park Service (NPS).

"Both Prof. Michael Birkner's historical methods class and Prof. Peter Carmichael's insights on public history proved extremely valuable as I interacted with visitors," said Tricia Runzel '13, a history major and English minor from Elgin, Ill. who interned at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania.

The students also agreed that obtaining such sought-after internships may not have been possible without the assistance of Carmichael at the CWI and the College's Civil War Era Studies Program, which teamed up to bring NPS representatives to campus for interviews.

Also key to making the internships possible was a generous gift to the College from the John J. Pohanka Family. The gift established the Brian C. Pohanka Fellows Program, administered by the CWI, which provides stipends to offset living expenses for NPS student interns.

The internships were life-changing, students agreed, and in some cases career-defining.

"This showed me what working in public history is like through hands-on experiences. Being able to educate visitors about the sites, hear their stories, and discuss these events with my colleagues was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," said Oakes, who worked in the Gettysburg National Military Park library. "I feel like I've found my future career."

Runzel, a resident of the College's Civil War theme house, echoed that sentiment. "While I can't tell you with one hundred percent certainty what my future will look like, I'm hoping to put on the green and grey uniform with the ‘Smokey the Bear hat' next summer. This internship exposed me to many paths that the Park Service has to offer and has opened up options for my future, while reaffirming that I am headed in the right direction."

"The internship program is so beneficial to both parties," said Beth Parnicza, park historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania, former NPS intern, and former student of Carmichael at West Virginia University. "For the park, the students bring in a fresh perspective and great ideas, and add necessary staffing. The students gain an excellent experience working in a particular field of history, all while learning about career options. We really enjoyed having these Gettysburg students with us this summer."

In addition to Johnson, Oakes, Roll, and Runzel at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania, Gettysburg College students interned at three other sites this summer. Nathan Hill '14 and Katelyn Stauffer '13 were at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Gabriella Hornbeck '13 was at Gettysburg National Military Park, and Thomas Skaggs '12 was at Appomattox National Historical Park.

This story will appear with additional photos in the fall issue of Gettysburg magazine that alumni, parents, and friends of the College will receive in October.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Thu, 1 Sep 2011

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