Diversity Interns: 'Where Are They Now?' Part 1

Last week, we announced that the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission is officially accepting applications for our 2016 Diversity Internship Program. With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to catch up with some of our former interns to hear about their career paths after their internship at the THC.

But before we get to reminiscing, we’d like to remind everyone about a few important things related to the program. The paid internship is under the supervision of THC staff at our headquarters in Austin or our state historic sites. It was created to build interest in and awareness of historic preservation, specifically among students from underrepresented cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. The initiative targets undergraduate students to encourage their interest in pursuing fields of study in history, preservation, architecture, landscape architecture, archeology, downtown revitalization, and heritage tourism.

Applications must be submitted online and supporting documents postmarked by March 18, 2016. Click here to apply.

Over the next few months, we’ll check in with some former Diversity Interns. Their experiences reveal how valued the program was to shaping their future career choices, and that their time with the THC helped develop strengths and skills that assisted in their future fields.

Our first participant is Sehila Mota Casper, a Diversity Intern in 2013.

After your internship at the THC, where and when did you receive your degree?
I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2014 with a master’s degree in historic preservation.

What career field did you enter?
Gratefully, I have found a job in historic preservation. I am currently a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Was your choice of career influenced by your internship with the THC?
Absolutely. When I interned at the THC, I was already in school for preservation and was interested in preserving Latina/o heritage. I was fortunate to have worked on the Hispanic Texans tourism travel guide with April Garner (the THC’s Heritage Tourism Program coordinator). There, I was tasked to identify sites and research locations based on historical themes that interested me. These locations would be submitted for consideration for the digital and print guide.

Easy right? Well, not so much. While it was exciting and very interesting, it quickly became apparent that momentous Latina/o accounts did not always lead to a historical site for a traveler to visit. Many sites associated with Latina/o heritage had been demolished, built over, and long forgotten. This issue gnawed at me and soon became the root for my thesis research.

After your internship, were there other influential experiences in your career decision?
My thesis research on a contemporary analysis of Latina/o preservation practices nationwide was sobering. It truly helped me see there were numerous issues facing the stewardship of our heritage. It utterly shaped the type of work and advocacy that I wanted to do, which is to elevate the preservation perceptions and practices of Latina/o heritage. 

The second year of my graduate studies, I received the Mildred Colodny Diversity Scholarship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I also received an internship at the Western Field Office in Denver to assist in researching sites for the National Treasures campaign.

Fortunately, the Trust was looking to diversify its current portfolio and find endangered and threated Latina/o historical and cultural sites. So, I got to spend four months conducting site identification, researching, and reaching out to grassroots organizations to learn more about their projects. These projects were then entered into a pool of potential sites for future National Treasure consideration. And as I’m sure that you’ve guessed, it led to a permanent position (hooray!).

What strengths did you discover you had through your experience at the THC?
I learned that I could bring my passion for Texas and Latina/o historical marginalization into my work.

What were your most positive experiences while interning with your specific THC department/program?
Working with the agency’s Community Heritage Development Division, and in particular with April Garner, was such an educational and delightful experience. April was very encouraging of my historical interests and is a great supervisor and project manager. She continually found ways to provide me with different learning experiences within the agency, such as attending agency meetings and utilizing the expertise of those outside of our department. Everyone I encountered was extremely helpful in lending guidance and was gracious with their time. Looking back, that is what strikes me most. There is a familial feel to the agency. Everyone is passionate about the work that is being done and helps however he or she can.

How can the THC Diversity Internship Program help increase diversity at the THC and in the preservation community?
I think that the THC Diversity Internship Program is doing a good job and making great strides in providing opportunities to those in underrepresented groups. These internships provide experience to diverse communities and allow us to become practitioners in a very Anglo-centric field. It is through programs such as these that we will expand the narratives in preservation.

I also commend the THC for providing African American and Latina/o-focused initiatives, as well as having programs like the Undertold Markers initiative and pursuing National Register nominations for marginalized groups. And while I believe that the THC is one of the few state agencies making great diversification strides, there is much to be done to have local partners and Certified Local Governments adopt this inclusive approach.