By Gillian Frisch, Public Affairs Intern
Where are you from and what brings you to the museum?
I come from Biddeford, Maine, where I studied Marine Biology and English at the University of New England. I became completely absorbed by the possibilities of new discoveries and studies in the scientific world, and I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the public. I knew the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History was renowned for its public outreach, but I wanted to work behind the scenes, where determination to highlight the work of the museum’s scientists has become a key focus. I was able to produce press releases, observe reactions to exhibition openings and announcements, and work with reporters from BBC Radio, The Washington Post, National Geographic and DK Travel. I have gained more experience and opportunities at the national museum than I could have ever imagined!
How did you get “behind those doors”?
I wanted to work on science writing, and began researching for internships in the fall of last year. There were many places to choose from, but I knew the Smithsonian was where I wanted to be. I searched the Institution’s internship page until I found the Science Writing Internship in the Public Affairs Office. After talking with Kelly Carnes, I knew this internship would meet my expectations, and much, much more! Before I knew it, I was driving from the bitter winters of Maine, to the warm atmosphere at the Smithsonian!
What is it you’re doing, behind those doors?
Within the first few weeks of my internship, I was able to accompany Kelly on a film shoot with the Smithsonian Channel. I met world renowned scientists such as Dr. Jeffrey Post, Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues, and Bruno Frohlich. I got the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the Hope Diamond and even get my picture taken next to this one-of-a-kind-gemstone! I saw a fossilized dinosaur egg and its CT scans, and numerous casts and fossils of different types of dinosaurs. And my experiences only began there! I’ve accompanied the Smithsonian Magazine to the Terry Collection at the Museum Support Center, our storage facility in Suitland, Maryland. I’ve worked with the Washington Post who photographed the Hope Diamond, a cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, and Titanoboa. I have had the opportunity to see several collections throughout the museum, including birds, mammals, and different types of archeological objects. I even had the chance to see the Smithsonian’s famed crystal skull, and learn the true story behind the legendary artifact from Smithsonian anthropologist, Dr. Jane Walsh! I watched as Titanoboa, the colossal snake from a prehistoric era, was put together piece by piece, and met the scientists behind the discovery at the exhibition’s opening. I never thought I’d be so involved in the relationship between the Smithsonian and the press!
Although escorting reporters and photographers around the museum demanded the majority of my time and attention, I had plenty to do back at the office. Reporters, students, parents, and many others are constantly calling for information. Whether the question includes the museum’s hours, collection inquires, or who the expert is on an up and coming topic, the Public Affairs Office gets the phone call first!
What’s been the most amazing or unexpected thing you’ve seen, experienced or discovered while being part of the NMNH academic community?
The Smithsonian houses such vast collections, and so many experts, that many people forget that the museum also functions as a research center, as well as an education center for the public. I had the opportunity to learn just a limited amount about the vast exploration and research our scientists do at the Smithsonian. It’s hard to imagine that sometimes their fascinating discoveries go unnoticed by the general public, which is why we’re always interested in improving our communications and outreach efforts! While interning at the Smithsonian, I witnesses some truly groundbreaking events: Titanoboa: Monster snake, featuring the largest snake ever known to roam the Earth, the story of the origin of the first Americans, and the announcement of the museum’s new director are only a few. It’s hard to believe that the Smithsonian could be known for anything but being a portal for discovery.