As a history major with minors in museum studies and German, Sean Keenan '20 has always known that museums are far more exciting than the dull and dusty galleries shown in movies and television. Sean got to experience that excitement first-hand, however, during an externship this winter break at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia with Katy Blanchard '00.
"There’s always something happening in the museum,” Sean said. “You constantly get to pick up new projects and work with a lot of different things, so it never gets boring."
Sean shadowed Katy in her duties as Fowler/Van Santvoord Keeper of Near Eastern Collections at the museum, which include caring for the museum’s collections and making them available to both researchers and the public. To make the collection of cuneiform tablets, beads, vases, and pottery sherds more accessible, Sean took photographs for the museum’s online catalogue of each object, some of which date back to as early as 5000 BC.
“One of my favorite pieces was this vase I looked at,” he says. “It still had grain inside of it, and it looked brand new. Another piece of pottery still had a little fingerprint on it from the person who made it. That was amazing.”
Though graduating with a major in history and two minors is “essentially scheduling Jenga,” Sean says it’s worth it if he can work in a museum after he graduates. “I want to do work similar to what Katy is doing. I like being able to handle the collection, I like being able to see everything in front of me.”
“Sean was great and explained to me why this experience was valuable to him at this time in his academic career,” Katy says. “Half of college internships and jobs and volunteer work is trying enough things to figure out what you don't want to do as much as it is to figure out what you do want to do. So by being able to show someone what this sort of job entails, I can hopefully help them towards a goal, whether they cross this one off their list or circle it.”
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.