New Mexico State University students soon will be learning museum conservation at one of the most prestigious museum systems in the world.
In a first-of-its-kind partnership, the Smithsonian Latino Center received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support internships at the Smithsonian Institution for four NMSU students per year for the next five years. It will pay all expenses for traveling, housing and give a stipend to each student during the internship. The students also will receive financial support from Candis J. Stern, a major contributor to NMSU's museum conservation program.
The students are leaving for Washington, D.C., on Sept. 4 and will return Nov. 12. They will join students from several universities at the Smithsonian this fall, but NMSU students will be the only ones working in conservation.
As the director of NMSU's highly-respected museum conservation program at a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Silvia Marinas-Feliner worked closely with the Smithsonian to coordinate this once-in-a-lifetime experience for her students.
"The first two weeks of the 10 weeks in (Washington,) D.C., all of the students are going to go to the Smithsonian forum, this includes around 20 students," Marinas-Feliner said. "The next eight weeks, they will be engaged in different practica."
Marlene Morales and Rose Burns will get a first-hand look at techniques used in conservation such as ultraviolet and infrared devices. Morales started at NMSU as a pre-med student until she took a class with Marinas-Feliner.
"It's going to be really cool to see everything behind the scenes and actually be able to work in the museum," said Morales. "It's very different to working here in the lab, where it's a controlled environment in comparison to a big museum, especially one is big as the Smithsonian."
Like Morales, Burns was also a pre-med student, but the lure of museum conservation was difficult to resist.
"I was hooked. It's fantastic," Burns said. "It's such a good mix of the things I'm interested in. And I feel each object's unique, and you really get to use your brain but be creative at the same time."
Stephanie Stewart, member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, was a biology major planning to study forensic science when she fell in love with museum conservation. Stewart was interning at the American Art Museum and was involved with hands-on exhibition creation and public engagement. Working fulltime in a museum is her dream job. Eventually, she wants to return to the Navajo Nation to use her museum conservation skills.
"I'm really excited for the hands-on part of it," Stewart said. "I've done exhibit changeouts and I've been working in collections where I was hands on and it was just so much fun and really exciting. I'm really excited to do that at the Smithsonian."
Briana Teran started at NMSU majoring in psychology but was always interested in art. Growing up she went to museum camps, history camps and loved watching videos online about people doing conservation work. Teran's practicum will cover holistic conservation techniques used at the Smithsonian.
"I'm really interested in getting a hands-on experience but also talking to all the people there, the professionals, the experts and just learning from them and also talking to other people like me that are interested in this field," Teran said. "I'm really interested in meeting others in the same field, the same age. I'm looking forward to learning about every aspect of conservation at the Smithsonian."
Marinas-Feliner sees herself in these students' stories. She started college to become a marine biologist but ended up in museum conservation instead. Today, she shares that passion with her students.
"It means so much that they are going to this internship with the Smithsonian," Marinas-Feliner said. "You cannot even imagine how much it means seeing that they're becoming professionals and they're going to be the future of this profession. I want to pass the torch to them.”
When the students return to campus later this fall, they will give presentations about what they have learned during their Smithsonian internship. The presentations will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 2, in the Health and Social Services Annex, Room 202.
"I want them to have a broad learning experience about different types of objects and different aspects of those objects in the context of conservation," Marinas-Feliner said. "I'm very excited about it."