When asked about her externship this winter, Rachel Grand ’21 is nothing if not honest.
“I was going to Alaska,” she says. “I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.”
A sophomore from White Plains, N.Y., Rachel is majoring in history of art and minoring in fine arts and museum studies. She’s been interested in museums for a long time; the 360° program she’s in this year, Textiles in Context, guides students to study, analyze, and curate a collection of Byzantine textiles. The program, which emphasizes immersive and multidisciplinary study, included a trip to various local textile exhibitions as well. “Until those trips,” Rachel explains, “I didn’t know that so many opportunities in the field even existed—curator, conservator, collections manager.”
At their best, Rachel says, museums are about educating the public: they offer people the opportunity to learn something new, studying history and displaying how it’s relevant today. They’re fascinating. So when she saw an externship opportunity with Helen Alten ’82, director of the Haines Sheldon Museum in Haines, Alaska, she knew where she wanted to be.
During her externship, Rachel did a variety of things; she helped to publicize the museum’s upcoming exhibit, organized the existing collections for display and archival purposes, and catalogued—“Accessioned,” she explains, “it means add to the record for museum purposes”—a new acquisition.
And since Rachel doesn’t have a home in Haines, which is located near Glacier Bay National Park in the northern part of the Alaskan panhandle, the Alten family invited her into theirs.
“They welcomed me to the family,” Rachel laughs, “and we cooked dinner together every night and ate breakfast together every morning.” She’s grateful to Bryn Mawr for offering her the chance to get hands-on experience in the museum world, and for an alumnae/i network that treats her like family.
For Alten, the externship offered a chance to give back to the College community: Rachel is her fifth extern so far. Even while life has taken her down paths she never expected, she says, Bryn Mawr “gave me that added inner confidence that I was smart enough, and good enough, and that things would work out.”
It’s her hope that the College and its programs continue to give students that confidence, and to challenge them to move beyond their own expectations.
So has anything changed for Rachel? Did she get the opportunity to move beyond her own expectations, and where is she headed now?
For now, she’s interning in Bryn Mawr Special Collections and helping a graduate student with her fall exhibit at the College. “I’m just gaining more experience, doing more museum related work, and hoping that I’ll gain more understanding of what I want to do.”
Directed by LILAC (Bryn Mawr’s Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center), the Extern Program provides an opportunity for students to explore their desired field/s and get a firsthand look at the world after undergrad. During winter or spring break, externs shadow professionals (usually Bryn Mawr alumnae/i) in their workplace and throughout their normal routines; they have the chance to experience a regular workday and the opportunity to receive advice and guidance from sponsors and their colleagues.