Humanities Insights from a NEH Intern: Part 2

by Kevin Donnelly

Kevin, pictured left, enjoying the company of one of his fraternity brothers after receiving the President's Cup for best Greek organization on campus.

Kevin, pictured left, enjoying the company of one of his fraternity brothers after receiving the President’s Cup for best Greek organization on campus.

As my internship at the National Endowment for the Humanities comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the experience as a whole. This being my first internship experience, I really had no idea what to expect. I had heard all of the classic intern horror stories: Scurrying to get coffee, make copies, answer phones, respond to emails, the monotony goes on. I was determined that my internship experience was not going to be like that, so when my program coordinator at the University of Maryland sent out an email about an internship opportunity in the NEH’s Office of White House and Congressional Affairs, I took immediate interest. Being a government and politics major, an internship at a federal agency seemed like the perfect match for me. Moreover, working in a Congressional affairs office presented me with the opportunity to interact with policymakers on the hill, something I sought from an internship from the beginning. To say my curiosity was piqued is an understatement, and the fact that I didn’t even know what the National Endowment for the Humanities did wasn’t going to stop me for trying to become a part of it.

Needless to say, when I was offered an intern position at the NEH I was thrilled. Arriving in the Old Post Office Pavilion for the first time was quite an experience, one I would come to appreciate as time went on. The tourist-filled food court and bombastic lunchtime performances gave the old place a unique character I won’t soon forget. The first meeting I had with the three C’s (All three women I worked with had names beginning with C) and my fellow interns demonstrated to me that this office was somewhere I wanted to be. Even though I came into the internship wary of what might be I immediately felt welcomed by colleagues and the staff. Each of us interns was assigned to a specific task, mine being the development of content for reports highlighting how the NEH serves certain constituencies. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and it has played a huge role in my academic career. I appreciated being given an assignment that took advantage of my existing skills while simultaneously teaching me new ones.  In looking up grants, images, and other data for each report, I was able to enhance my research skills and utilize methods of inquiry previously unavailable to me. Often I had to maintain email correspondences with program directors, museum curators, artists, and nonprofit staff, and I enjoyed the opportunity to fine tune my professional communication skills. I was also able to learn so much about how NEH programs benefit people across the nation. From family literacy programs to veteran-related projects, the NEH funds initiatives serving every demographic in all of the humanities fields. In researching the NEH’s broad spectrum of grants I gained a better understanding of the agency’s immense purview and impact.

I was also responsible for setting up meetings with the offices of freshmen members of Congress, a task I had looked forward to since I arrived in the Office of White House and Congressional Affairs. Don’t worry – it’s not that I actually enjoy the logistics of setting up meetings, I’m not crazy – but I do support what the NEH does and jumped on the opportunity to spread the word on Capitol Hill. Because I potentially want to pursue a career in public service it was especially interesting to experience a Hill meeting firsthand. Though I’m not always the most organized person, scheduling meetings on the Hill taught me respect for an organized schedule, an invaluable skill if I want to succeed in the future.

I was also fortunate enough to have some great times thanks to my colleagues and the agency in general. Being able to attend the 42nd Jefferson Lecture featuring Martin Scorsese was a truly enlightening privilege, and one I won’t soon forget. Seeing the reports I had worked on for three months come to life before my eyes was totally gratifying. Covering our Director’s office in googly eyes on April Fool’s Day on the other hand was 100 percent fun. I can safely say that all of the internship myths about fetching coffee or answering phones did not apply to my experience at the NEH, which provided me the best of both worlds.

I have really found a place in my heart for the NEH. I’m so thankful that I was able to better myself and the agency, and am even more appreciative to gain the knowledge that I have. Before interning at the NEH I barely knew what the humanities were. Now I’m left with a deep and lasting respect for the humanities that will stay with me forever. I’ll miss the NEH and I’m so happy knowing that I’ve made lasting relationships with great people at a great agency. Thank you all!

Kevin Donnelly is working towards his Bachelors of Arts in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. He is planning to pursue a master in Public Policy, focusing either on International Economic Policy or Education Policy. Originally from Rockville, MD, Kevin is a local who loves D.C. but resents taking it for granted. He loves cars and hopes to one day have a garage the size of Jay Leno’s. He plans on graduating in May of 2016 and pursuing a career in public policy.

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Humanities Insights from a NEH Intern: Part 1

by Katherine Kipp

Katherine posing with a very photogenic camel in India, 2011. After her NEH internship ends, Katherine will head back to India for a six-week trip.

Katherine posing with a very photogenic camel in India, 2011. After her NEH internship ends, Katherine will head back to India for a six-week trip.

As I approach the end of my internship at the National Endowment for the Humanities, it occurs to me that the internship’s end coincides with my fourth year in graduate school, equaling the amount of time I spent as an undergrad. By the time I graduate with my Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing next May, I will have spent more time in graduate school than as an undergraduate.

It also occurs to me that my time at NEH, while my third time working as an intern, comes after a five-year gap from my last internship. Coincidentally, my last internship was also in D.C., when I was studying at the Washington Journalism Center for a semester.

I entered the NEH internship with really no idea of what to expect. Would I be stapling papers? Making coffee? Hailing taxis? My last two internships had been at newspapers, and I had spent most of my time interviewing, transcribing interviews, and turning interviews into stories.

Plus, up until the point I received an email from the Academic Coordinator in my Master’s program, advertising the internship, I had never heard of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I wasn’t even completely sure what the humanities were, and I’m an English major three times over! All I knew for sure was that my internship would be in the Office of White House and Congressional Affairs, the three women I would be working with all had names that start with a “C,” and the offices are located in the Old Post Office Pavilion, floors above where hordes of middle schoolers gather to eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and cookies during their school trips to Washington, D.C.

I learned quickly that I, and my fellow interns, would all be assigned specific tasks to work on. Each task made use of a particular skillset of ours that we were already bringing to the table, and pushed us to expand that skillset and apply it to our day-to-day work at the NEH. I was charged to develop and write material for the new Congressional Affairs blog. I’ve been writing in some form or fashion since 2nd grade. This interest of mine has taken me from writing for my college’s newspaper, to writing short stories for local competitions, to freelancing for small-town newspapers, and, most recently, to obtaining a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing.

Even though writing the blog would allow me to use part of a skillset I’m comfortable with, I was tasked with developing material for blog posts in a field I was mostly unfamiliar with just a few months ago. Luckily, I work with some amazing people (not just in my office, but the whole of NEH) who were happy to share ideas for potential blog posts. Through this, I was able to learn about the Division of Education Programs’ Summer Institutes, the many documentaries and radio shows Public Programs has funded, and the ways people and institutions are combining humanities and technology to provide updated and innovative ideas. So, while I was writing blog posts informing congressional staff members and constituents about the amazing contributions NEH has made and continues to make to the humanities world, I was also able to truly understand the great impact NEH has had on society—and it was right underneath my nose the whole time. I even went so far as to research NEH-funded programs and events in my hometown: there have been 36, dating back all the way to the early 1980s!

In addition to detailing the good work NEH does on our blog, I was able to do so in person as well through visits with the staff of freshmen members of Congress. Of all the experiences I have had since beginning my time at the NEH, those meetings were the most unexpected for me. I had not been seeking out a Congressional affairs position, so meeting with Congressional staff on a regular basis was a pleasant surprise. I’m glad to be able to communicate the good work NEH does to congressional staff members, knowing they’ll pass the message along to fellow employees and constituents in their districts.

And then there was the fun stuff! I became friends with my two fellow interns, people I probably would never have met otherwise, and with them (and a little help from our advisors as well) covered our Director’s office in googly eyes for April Fool’s Day. I attended the 42nd Jefferson Lecture on the Humanities, featuring Martin Scorsese, and an event centered on the NEH-funded documentary No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII, featuring Soledad O’Brien. I trekked to the Executive Office Building for a meeting and came within inches of meeting Joe Biden. (Kidding—I just like to imagine that he was there.) From days with special events like the White House briefing to trekking through mazes of 8th graders on my way to grab Indian food, working at the NEH was always an adventure.

But the biggest skill I gained was a newfound respect for the humanities, an educated understanding of what NEH does, and admiration for the people who work every day to make the NEH great. I will miss this place once I’m gone!

Katherine Kipp is working toward her Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing at the University of Maryland. She has a MA in English from Southeast Missouri State University (Cape Girardeau, MO), a BA in English and Journalism from Union University (Jackson, Tenn.), and worked for several years as a freelance journalist. A Tennessean at heart, even though she lost the accent (or never had it to begin with), she loves drinking coffee, smelling old books, running, and, obviously, writing. She plans on graduating in the spring of 2014 and pursuing a career in education.

Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care

In order to better serve their patients, health care professionals in Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country are participating in a ground-breaking new program: every week, doctors, nurses, receptionists, and lab technicians sit together and discuss books.

The Maine Humanities Council launched Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care in 1997 with a grant from the NEH. It is a hospital-based, scholar-led humanities reading and discussion program that encourages health care professionals to approach their work from a different perspective. Through a carefully selected anthology of short stories, poems, and plays, hospital workers reflect on their role as caregivers to the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

Courtesy of Literature & Medicine.

Courtesy of Literature & Medicine.

Where Literature & Medicine is implemented, health care professionals and patients attest to vastly improved relationships. After reading Echoes of War: A Literature & Medicine Anthology one participant reported: “Our discussions have significantly reordered how I think about medicine. I live with the experience of the protagonist in one of William Carlos Williams’ ‘Doctor Stories,’ a physician who acted without listening. I do not want to be like him. I am learning to sit quietly and listen.”

Courtesy of Literature & Medicine.

Courtesy of Literature & Medicine.

 A survey conducted in 2008 found that participants between 2005 and 2008 reported a staggering 79% increase in empathy for patients, and a 62% increase in job satisfaction. Though the reading selections focus on issues prevalent in Veterans Affairs hospitals, the Main Humanities Council believes any group of health care professionals can benefit from the readings, or from discussing a similar anthology of their own choosing.

When the worlds of literature and science are linked, the human body and all of its physical and emotional wounds can be better understood. The Literature & Medicine program is one way of linking these often disparate fields at a low cost.

So far, Literature & Medicine is the only program in which hospital personnel on a state and national level read literary works to help them think more carefully about their jobs. More than 2,000 health care professionals from hospitals in 25 states have participated since its creation. Every year, new state humanities councils partner with the program, proving that the relatively simple concept of reading and talking in communion has the power to transform the experience of working in a veterans’ hospital.

The Lovings: A Timeless Love Story

Even though Valentine’s Day was a little over a week ago, the spirit of the holiday is still fresh in our minds. Whether you celebrated the holiday with friends, family, or a significant other—or all three—the holiday provides a chance for all of us to acknowledge the ones we hold most dear. Last Thursday, we celebrated the holiday through the sharing of Valentines, candy, flowers, and other gifts.

We’d like to share something else with you: a love story.

While same-sex marriage may be the contested issue in the field of marriage these days, 35 years ago it was interracial marriage.

Richard and Mildred Loving. Photo by Grey Villet, Courtesy of HBO

Richard and Mildred Loving. Photo by Grey Villet, Courtesy of HBO.

Since 1967, interracial marriage has been legal in every state in the country, due to the landmark case Loving v. Virginia. The Lovings—Richard and Mildred—were an interracial couple that married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, but were arrested upon returning to their home state of Virginia, where interracial marriage was still illegal. They were faced with three options: leave the state or face a one-year jail sentence, live elsewhere together, or return to Virginia separately. As they began to miss their families and home state while living in D.C., they got in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union, at the suggestion of then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. After they were met with frustrating results in the Virginia Supreme Court, they took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nine years after they married, the Supreme Court not only ruled in the Lovings’ favor but also overturned anti-miscegenation laws country-wide.

Their phenomenal story of love was turned into a documentary last year by Nancy F. Buirski and Elisabeth Haviland James. Using photos and home video footage of the Lovings, The Loving Story depicts not only their struggle for equal rights, but also their real-life love story. The documentary was produced with a grant from the National Endowment of Humanities and originally premiered on HBO on February 14, 2012. As we celebrate this year’s Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, The Loving Story serves as a timeless story of love and equality.

The documentary is also a part of Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, a four-part video series and education resource that will be sent to 500 communities across the nation to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Loving Story is available online at HBO.com, and it also continues to appear on the channel’s programming.