Sandra Sanchez at the Smithsonian

Hometown: I’ve moved too many times to have one!

Majors: History, Chinese language & literature; Minor: Indigenous studies

Internship title and organization:

Intern for the Program in Latino History & Culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH)

What were your responsibilities during your internship?

The museum just opened a whole new wing with a focus on how America was created by different people of different backgrounds, so I am primarily working on that. I help compile various scholarship and materials for my supervisor that will be developed into curricula for k-12 U.S. history teachers. The aim of the project is to better integrate primary sources in to the classroom, and to reform traditional narratives into more inclusive and critical histories. I also interact with visitors on a daily basis with an ‘immigration cart,’ using various items that people from Latin America might bring with them to the U.S. This is an engaging way to spark conversation with the public about the history of immigration in the U.S.

Image of a table containing a variety of objects including a Mexican flag, a pink heart pillow, and musical instruments like a cowbell and a tambourine.
An example of the ‘immigration cart’ Sandra displays in the museum to start a conversation about immigration from Latin America to the U.S.

What was your favorite part(s) of the internship? 

Being able to listen to the wonderful curators and scholars who are a part of the Smithsonian has really solidified my own love of research and has kept me engaged in academics this summer. If I had any doubts about continuing into higher education, they are long gone. I’ve also been inspired by how the historical research here at NMAH is translated into publicly accessible materials, and how programs like the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Asian Pacific American Center bring attention to lesser-known experiences and cultures.

A photo of Sandra Sanchez and the public engaging with an exhibit that forms part of a new wing at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History focused on how America was created by different people of different backgrounds. This photo originally appeared in an article on The Washington Post, available here.

What did you gain from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future? 

Learning about the vast collections of material available for research and seeing some of the behind-the-scenes work on object collection definitely is an invaluable experience as I look to continue my own research in graduate school. At NMAH there is a big emphasis on material culture and telling stories through objects that might not be considered important—like a lost pair of child’s tennis shoes found near the U.S.-Mexican border to illustrate one type of migration—so I can bring that focus to my own research and be as open-minded as I can be.

Working here is an experience beyond KU, and one that history majors should think about doing because it contextualizes why studying history is important and why everyone should learn about and love history.

How did you find out about this internship?

I had signed up for the mailing list from the Smithsonian Office of Fellowships & Internships quite a while ago, and was waiting for an opportunity for a paid internship to open up. One day, I opened my inbox and I saw there were applications open for the Minority Awards Program which would fund any internship across the Smithsonian Institution. From there, I researched with whom and where I wanted to work at and then applied.

Aerial view of the National Museum of American History, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Via Wikipedia.

What advice would you give students who are considering an internship?

It is imperative to start looking for possible opportunities as early as possible so that you can start preparing what criteria you might need (whether it is a class, language experience, etc.) and so you can begin planning financially (applying for scholarships or outside aid if needed.) Think of different career paths you might be interested in and look for internships in those fields. Your internship doesn’t have to be what you’re going to do for the rest of your life and often having experience through an internship will help you decide whether or not you really want to work in that field. Lastly, start asking around! Ask your professors, your mentors, advisors—anyone! There are so many great opportunities that you may or may not stumble upon alone so if you expand your network then you’ll have a wider range of options.

Why did you choose your majors/minors?

So much of what we learn about history ends in a high school U.S history textbook. These historical narratives are narrow in focus, and rarely discuss the diverse identities that are vital to understanding human experiences through history. As members of a society, we cannot hope to live together and progress if we do not examine our past and our interactions with each other, be they driven by hatred, indifference, or understanding. I’ve chosen my studies because they provide a path where I am constantly learning different perspectives and confronting my own beliefs and prejudices, as well as seeking dialogues with others. What I study is only one possible path of critical study that I hope helps me better engage in the current world and its conflicts and will allow me to reflect on my own role in it.

What do you plan to do next?

I am going into my final year and will soon be applying for PhD programs in immigration studies or transnational studies, so hopefully next year at this time I’ll be preparing to enter graduate school!

My favorite KU memory is… meeting Nora Naranjo-Morse when she came to speak at the Spencer Museum of Art.

Multi-media artist Nora Naranjo Morse delivered the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar lecture on Feb. 9 in the Spencer Museum of Art auditorium.

The best advice I ever got: Never, ever, be afraid to ask for help.

How do you recharge your batteries? I like to eat good food and play with my cat.

What motivates you? I like to know that what I do will help people and that I can share my success—for instance, I hope that if people see this post, then there will be more KU students interning at the Smithsonian who might not have been aware of the opportunity!

Your superpower would be … Being able to speak any language.