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A Glimpse Into a Dream Career Fulfilled by a Summer Internship

January 15, 2016

In my personal statement as an applicant to SCAD’s M.F.A. program in Architectural History (ARLH), I vividly remember writing that what I really enjoyed and wanted in the future was to simply write about our built environment. Little did I know a couple years later I would be logged into a U.S. federal government computer at the National Park Service’s (NPS) Midwest Regional Office, editing, designing, and writing the cover story for their History and National Register Program’s tenth annual newsletter, named Exceptional Places. The newsletter now appears on the NPS’s website and has been sent out to over 400 National Historic Landmark (NHL) stewards and owners within the Midwest region.

Have a look:

http://www.nps.gov/nhl/contact/mwro/ExceptionalPlaces2015.pdf

The newsletter was my primary task to be completed as a NCPE (National Council for Preservation Education) intern during summer 2015 at the NPS’s Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska—all while getting to experience the everyday workings of the office’s Cultural Resources Division. I utilized skills learned in ARLH 700 Research Methods in Architectural History at SCAD in determining and accumulating the proper information I needed for my cover story on the Henry Gerber House National Historic Landmark in Chicago, Illinois, which included both primary and secondary research. (It also didn’t hurt to be from a program at an art school, as my Adobe InDesign and creative skills were put to the test in carrying out the overall graphic design of the newsletter.)

One method that not only turned out to be an amazing primary research experience, but also an architectural history grad student’s dream trip, was a site visit, as part of an intern business trip, to the Henry Gerber House accompanied by SCAD Architectural History alumna, Alesha Cerny (Historian and NHL Coordinator for Illinois and Minnesota at the NPS). On the way to the site in Chicago, we visited several National Historic Landmarks, as part

Author at the Farnsworth House

Author at the Farnsworth House

of my internship was to learn about the NHL program through visiting properties within the Midwest Region. To name a few: Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box” Merchants’ National Bank, the Amana Colonies, and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. I never thought I would be on a private tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the Charnley-Persky House (also the national headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians).

But perhaps even more incredible was visiting a newly named NHL: the Henry Gerber House. It is now a private residence in Chicago, which was a boarding house in the 1920s inhabited by Gerber and which served as the meeting place for the Society of Human Rights, the first official organization dedicated to advocating homosexual equal rights in the U.S. and where Gerber published the first homosexual periodical, Friendship and Freedom. Not only did I have the opportunity to interview the current owners and tour the house, but also the chance to see, read, hold, and photograph the newly unveiled NHL plaque that would later be placed outside for the public. It was a fascinating experience writing an article about our nation’s architectural history that was topped off by being in the NPS’s office when the news broke that Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, signed the Henry Gerber House nomination officially giving the subject of my newsletter article National Historic Landmark status.

While the newsletter is definitely something of which I am very proud, the insight I gained into what is possible with a degree in Architectural History and into what specific jobs and skills are necessary for the ongoing stewardship of our nation’s valuable cultural resources was particularly valuable to me as a student deciding on a career path.

I also had the opportunity to help with several aspects of the Travel Itinerary for the City of Omaha for the NPS’s “Discover Our Shared Heritage Itinerary Series” (another NCPE internship undertaking). My architectural history classes at SCAD proved valuable and provided me with confidence when I was consulted about everything from how to describe the architectural style of a building exterior to whether an historic overpass held enough significance to include in a travel itinerary. Much to my delight, I was well prepared due to the wide range of course content I was exposed to in our department’s courses at SCAD. Skills I gained from ARLH 770 Documenting and Interpreting the Built Environment were essential to collaborate with two other NCPE interns, our supervisors at the NPS, and the Nebraska SHPO, where SCAD ARLH alumnus, Ruben Acosta, provided us with valuable resources on Omaha’s history. Again, it didn’t hurt to be a student at SCAD. Our team needed Photoshop skills to edit pictures from our site visits around Omaha. I was surprised and pleased to see that both my intellectual and creative skills were needed and appreciated.

Aside from my main tasks I had the valuable learning, and just plain fascinating, opportunities, such as sitting in during staff meetings, NHL conference calls involving every region across the country, and Section 106 commenting meetings involving National Parks across the Midwest Region.

Midwestern memories of racing hundreds of miles through the cattle-dotted prairies of South Dakota to the rugged terrain of Badlands National Park and riding through the wind turbine- and corn-filled rolling fields and small towns of Iowa and Illinois separating the metropolises of Omaha and Chicago on either horizon, will always run like an old silent film through my mind as an artifact to what natural and cultural resources served to influence our nation’s architectural history.

Editor’s note: Kimberly Herman is an M.F.A. student completing her degree program in architectural history at SCAD

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