Summer of Endless Learning – by Katie Wenger

By: and Katie Wenger

September 3, 2019

Before starting my internship at the Penn Museum in the Development Office this summer, I had only a surface-level understanding of museum development based on the internship description and museum website. However, the internship rose above my expectations by providing me with diverse perspectives, career development, and connections with amazing professionals. Through this internship opportunity, not only did I gain important career skills, I also developed my sense of professionalism and discovered the fascinating work and complex ethics of archaeology and anthropology museums.

Interning with Kate Fox in the Membership subdivision of the Development Office, I learned about development strategy and practiced skills relevant to various careers. As I discovered, successful museum fundraising depends on connecting with all the people involved with the museum, whether visitors, members, or donors. For this reason, all the projects I worked on this summer related to audience engagement. For instance, I investigated how the museum keeps in contact with people who come to events here. To find out, I created a list of all the events and programs the museum hosted in the last year, recording whether or not we obtained attendees’ contact information. Then, I surveyed other departments to find out what emails they send to program attendees. Finally, I used our database, Altru, to create lists of program participants so the department can communicate with them and possibly engage them as members in the future. The other projects I worked on, such as updating member thank-you letters and summarizing member survey data, also supported audience engagement. These projects helped me understand the long-term relational nature of development, and they also helped me strengthen career competencies like writing, data analysis, and database navigation. The skills and lessons I learned in the membership department will help me in my potential career paths in nonprofit management, government, or business.

Spending time with members of the Development Office at an event with other Penn Development staff. Photo by Katie Wenger.

In addition to these lessons, this internship taught me about another key skill: professionalism. Working in a professional environment for the first time, I learned that success requires strong communication skills and building positive relationships with colleagues. At first, I struggled with this, feeling shy during casual conversations with coworkers and reluctant to communicate with my supervisor about assignments. However, my coworkers impressed me with their friendly and sincere attitude, which they maintained while still focusing on achieving their professional goals. They would drop by and chat, invite me to walk to the food trucks, and even held a surprise birthday party for a member of the department. The friendly and caring attitude of the other interns also inspired me. As the internship progressed, I learned to relax when communicating with my coworkers and see work as a team effort rather than worrying about how my performance would be evaluated. I also tried to take on a growth mindset, embracing problems as learning opportunities instead of focusing on perfection. The communication skills and positive attitude I gleaned from my colleagues were some of my biggest takeaways from this summer.

Describing my internship during the intern presentations on the last day. Photo by Kelsea Gustavson.

Finally, while I did not apply to this internship planning to go into a museum career other than development, the Museum Practice Program taught me fascinating concepts about the work and ethics of archaeology and anthropology museums. Listening to talks and tours from all the different departments in the museum helped me appreciate the diversity of museum work, from digitizing records to developing educational programs. Also, the Penn Museum impressed me with its efforts to seek sensitive understanding of marginalized cultures, such as by bringing in members of marginalized groups to consult on projects and educate the public. In addition, discussions with other interns helped me reflect on ethical issues in museums, such as the colonial systems involved in acquiring objects and the importance of striving to make museums more inclusive institutions. Throughout the summer, the internship program provided enriching perspectives on the efforts museums can make to increase cultural understanding and empathy.

My internship at the Penn Museum was an invaluable experience that helped me develop career skills, strengthened my sense of professionalism through interactions with amazing staff and interns, and fostered new ideas about museum work and ethics. I’m grateful for the opportunity to intern here this summer, and I look forward to applying the concepts I learned here in future professional settings and beyond.

2019 summer intern cohort. Photo by Stephanie Mach.

Each summer the Penn Museum hosts undergraduate students, graduate students, and recent graduates as interns in departments across the Museum. Interns come together weekly to participate in the Museum Practice Program, learning about the Penn Museum’s various departments, collections, exhibitions, programs, and methodologies. This post is from Katie Wenger, a 2019 summer intern in the Development Office.