Qiaozhen’s Smithsonian Experience

Qiaozhen participated in this internship last spring. Read about his cool experience and think about applying in the future!

Article written by Qiaozhen, an 2015 alum of the MAAA program at SPEA. While at SPEA, Qiaozhen worked as a GA for the Arts Administration program. He also participated in a new partnership program between SPEA and the Smithsonian, interning at the National Museum of American History for spring semester 2015. Qiaozhen is now a PhD student in Public Policy at Georgia State University.

Smithsonian logoMy classmate Anna and I interned at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) from January to May 2015 where we served as administrative interns in the Office of Management and Museum Services under the leadership of Janice Lilja, the Associate Director of the Museum.

The most impressive part of the internship was that we rotated within the Office which allowed us to work direct with the director of finance, personnel and facilities planning and operations. Therefore we had a comprehensive understanding of managing a major national museum. In the finance office, we worked with Beth Kline, the finance director, to create or update financial report templates. The process was more complicated than we would imagine. And the reason being that as a national museum, the NMAH receives federal appropriation which roughly equals to 60 percent of its annual expenses; and the other half is the museum’s own responsibility. As a result, the museum receives many different funds, donations and sponsorships from individuals and corporations. Some of them arrive as scheduled; some of them do not; some of them are restricted; some of them are not. All these different situations make financial management job very challenging. But thanks to the financial principles we learned from class, we conquered all the challenges and successfully finished the projects.

In addition to the hands-on learning, we also learned from the weekly staff meetings and the bi-weekly discussions with Janice. At the weekly staff meetings, Janice usually updates us on new decisions made by the Directors Council of the museum and then we report our work progress. Participating in the meetings helped us blend in the environment quickly and make us feel that we are one of the group. For the bi-weekly meetings, Janice bought each of us a book named “The Manual of Museum Management” which we read and discussed with her. During the discussions, we compared the theories in the book with our daily job and hear Janice’s comments on the theories. The discussions were always productive because as a high-rank arts administrator, Janice not only understands daily operations of museums, but also the policy considerations behind decisions, things like how congress decides annual appropriations for the Smithsonian Institutions.


Qiaozhen (far left) and Anna (far right) with NMAH staff in front of the Washington Monument.

Another cool part about the internship is that Janice arranged us and only SPEA interns with several private tours which we visited the storage rooms with a curator and looked at the collections of our choice. One of my selections is the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The collection consists of more than 18,000 items, and is one of the largest numismatic collections in the world. During the tour, I saw coins created 2,000 years ago, coins that are from Europe, Middle East, China, Russia and more, and coins in different shapes. It was really the most impressive museum-visiting experience of my life.

This internship is indeed a valuable and unforgettable experience which we applied our knowledge to real-world projects. We also appreciate SPEA and NMAH’s unique arrangement which allows us to have this comprehensive intern experience.

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