By Sara Allen, Human Resources Project Coordinator
This season, THC staff is expressing our gratitude to the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, a nonprofit organization that assists our agency with our mission to identify, preserve, and protect Texas history. By raising private funds, the Friends of the THC has enabled many projects that could not have been completed without its support. During this week leading up to Thanksgiving, join us in “Giving Thanks to our Friends!”
The THC’s Diversity Internship Program, previously known as the Preservation Fellows, was established in 2007 as an internship funded by the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission. The program was founded to address an overwhelming need to help students of underrepresented cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds explore historic preservation as a career field. This 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.
Diversity Interns receive a $5,000 stipend provided by the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, for an eight-week internship (40-hour week). Interns work under the supervision of the THC staff, at our headquarters in Austin or at one of our 20 historic sites across the state. Below are some testimonies shared by staff about experiences they’ve had with Diversity Interns in their respective divisions and programs. Their experiences truly show how valued the program is to not only the agency, but also the greater preservation community.
Brad Jones, Archeology Division
The Friends’ Diversity Internship program has been a tremendous boon for both Archeology Division staff and our wonderful interns. 2012 Diversity Intern Jannie Scott played an important role helping organize Archeology Division collections and improving our records of State Antiquities Landmarks. However, it was her project to develop a GIS-based map of freedmen’s communities in Travis County that not only benefitted our own records, but has become the backbone of her dissertation at UT-Austin, which examines post-emancipation African American settlement patterns in the county.
Our most recent intern, Lara Adelle Fields, also assisted in numerous Archeology Division projects that have benefitted our division and given her the skills to open additional doors of educational opportunity. Perhaps most importantly though, she learned through working with our staff about different career trajectories beyond academia, and in the process developed a new interest in European colonialism in Texas and the Americas that is reshaping her future career goals. For both students, this important Friends’ program has created a unique opportunity to work with THC staff, and in so doing has excited burgeoning scholars about possibilities in preservation and research here in Texas that they had previously not known existed.
April Garner, Community Heritage Development Division
We gained as much from the 2013 interns Sehila Casper and Joel Zapata as I hope they gained from their experience with our Heritage Tourism team. Both Sehila and Joel researched stories of people related to sites significant to Texas’ Hispanic heritage. Their work introduced us to important stakeholders and preservationists involved with Lubbock’s Aztlan Park, Del Rio’s Brown Plaza and Casa de la Cultura, and Dallas’ Pike Park. Their research and outreach to locals led to site descriptions included in both the Hispanic heritage print guide and mobile tour—most notably, the mobile tour audio stop for Brown Plaza and the video on Dallas’ Little Mexico with Mexican American Historical League preservationists.
Charles Sadnick, Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (administratively linked to the THC)
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) has benefited greatly from the Diversity Internship program. We’re thankful to the Friends of the THC for allowing us to participate in 2014. Through the program, we were able to accomplish work by hiring an intern, Idali Reyes, who had specific interest and experience with Holocaust issues. At the time, we only had one full-time employee and two half-time employees. The web content development she provided that summer would not have been accomplished otherwise. Her presence also helped our Commissioners further understand the positive impact of diversity in the workplace and encouraged us to develop our own diversity internship program.
Bob Brinkman, History Programs Division
We have had wonderful experiences through the Preservation Fellow and Diversity Internship programs. Several of the recent interns have aided us through researching and writing undertold historical markers and coordinating efforts with County Historical Commissions. Their work has resulted in many successful undertold marker stories, which benefit us, the counties, and the public. The marker for Dr. Thomas Edison Dixon, an African American physician, civil rights proponent, and civic leader in Temple, was dedicated at an elementary school with a large crowd of students and neighbors in attendance to hear his inspiring story and celebrate their community. The Diversity Internship program provides an invaluable experience for young preservationists since there are so few opportunities for practical experience in the field. The program also benefits the THC’s historical markers program immeasurably, both with managing projects today and gaining advocates who will extoll the virtues of preservation in their chosen careers in the future.
Pat Mercado-Allinger, Archeology Division
The Friends of the THC has provided important support to the THC’s Diversity Internship program since it was first conceptualized by then-Commissioner Lauretha Clay. We in the Archeology Division have had the benefit of working with several great students who helped us undertake much-needed projects that our staffing couldn’t fully support. Examples that come to mind are the Bull Hill Cemetery project in Falls County, an African American cemetery that local history sources indicate was established for slaves from the 19th-century cotton plantation owned by Churchill Jones and continued in use into the 1960s. Thanks to the 2007 Diversity Intern Nedra Lee, field documentation and oral interviews of local residents and descendants of some of the individuals interred at Bull Hill was accomplished. Lee gained practical, project-focused experience that proved to be useful to her dissertation research, which involved the study of a historic freedmen's site on the outskirts of Austin.
Research and compilation of content for the THC website was accomplished by 2010 and 2015 interns Katherine Koebbe and Lara Fields, respectively. Koebbe’s work contributed greatly to the eventual creation of a tribal contacts page as well as a series of frequently asked questions relating to tribal consultation guidelines. Fields assembled a wealth of information that will be incorporated into updated web content relating to the Belle and Fort St. Louis projects in the near future.
This internship opportunity, working with THC staff and programs, helps expose the interns to the various and exciting vocational opportunities in the field of historic preservation, with the goal of encouraging more students from underrepresented ethnic groups to pursue careers in this field. In return, the THC and its partner organizations have had the opportunity to meet promising young people who might choose to work in this field. The Friends of the THC is helping fund experiences that spark the interest of future historic preservationists in Texas. The entire THC staff gives an enthusiastic THANK YOU to the Friends of the THC for supporting the Diversity Internship Program.
The Diversity Internship Program is funded through private gifts. To make a donation, please call 512-936-2189 or visit the Friends website.