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A Culture of Care >> Read Smith’s plans for the fall 2021 semester.

Internship Program at the Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Museum - exterior

Spend a semester in Washington, D.C., working side-by-side with some of the nation’s preeminent curators and scholars of American culture. A unique offering among all American colleges and universities, Smith’s Internship Program at the Smithsonian Institution allows qualified juniors and seniors to conduct hands–on research and program development. Because the Smithsonian Institution comprises 19 sites, students from many different disciplines are encouraged to apply.

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Smithsonian Program Information

  • The program director anticipates that this program will run as expected for the fall 2021 semester, however it is possible it will shift to remote work. Students will be notified of any developments as they occur.

About the Smithsonian Program

The one-semester internship program is at one of the 19 Smithsonian sites, where students assist in creating exhibitions and programming, conduct research with archival and museum materials, and work side-by-side with curators on a great range of projects. Once or twice a month, the program director comes to Washington for a colloquium session in which students present their evolving projects. These activities constitute a full semester of course credit.

Because the Smithsonian Institution comprises so many museums, students from many different disciplines are encouraged to apply. Recent student research projects have dealt with such topics as the northward migration of African Americans, women’s participation in sports, American participation in world fairs, Charles Wilson Peale’s papers, the rise of modernism in American art and the use of infant baby formula in the antebellum South.

What is the internship itself?

Students work side-by-side with curators and scholars at one of the 19 Smithsonian sites on a variety of tasks: research and writing for Smithsonian publications, researching archival materials for museum exhibitions or websites, developing programming and educational materials for museum visitors and teachers, helping to mount exhibits, writing wall text and making decisions about exhibition formats, and more. Students work four days a week (usually Monday through Thursday), full-time.

What are the other components of the program?

In addition to the internship, students take a seminar in museum studies that meets once a week on Friday mornings. Students are also required to develop a substantial independent project, usually built from their internship work, which is submitted at the end of the term to both their supervisor and a Smith faculty member. The work is graded by both readers. Once a month, the program director comes to Washington for a colloquium session in which students present their evolving projects.

How many credits will I get, and in what subject?

The Smithsonian Program is a 16-credit program. Students receive 4 credits for their internship, 4 credits for the seminar and 8 credits for the final project. All appear on the transcript as American studies credits.

Do you have to be an American studies major to do the Smithsonian program?

Absolutely not. Students from any major may apply. Internships span a wide range of disciplines, as do the Smithsonian museums themselves. In the past few years, majors in biology, art, history, anthropology, education, government, as well as American studies, have participated in the program.

When do I start?

You begin your internship the day after Labor Day. You finish on the last day of Smith classes. Vacations are negotiated with your supervisor.

What does a typical internship workday look like?

Unlike semesters on campus, internship work is open-structured and largely independent, individually motivated and minimally supervised. It is imperative that students maintain contact with their curators and take initiative rather than wait for instruction or external structure. Typically, student interns work from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., four days a week. This schedule, however, is dependent on the units and curators. On Fridays, students attend a museum studies seminar and, once or twice a month, a research seminar.

Mondays through Thursdays, students often commute to work via Metro or on foot. They tend to check in with their curators every day or so, but are generally independent during the workday itself, working on the computer, attending meetings, conducting research. Day-to-day activities might include sending emails; attending meetings, lectures, and special events; and proofreading previous work. After work, students might attend talks or museum activities, head to the Library of Congress to do some homework, go out with friends, or head home for dinner.

What about course work?

Students are enrolled in three courses: the internship work counts for one course (AMS 410), the museum studies course another (AMS 411), and students undertake an 8-credit independent project attached to a research seminar (AMS 412). Often one or more of these courses can be used for credit within the major department/program.

The museum studies course is taught by a local museum professional, currently Sarah Gordon. It is run as a blended lecture-seminar with frequent guests and site visits. This course follows, broadly, a typical Smith schedule (assignments, midterms, final paper, etc.).

The research seminar, led by the program director, is an opportunity to develop the student’s large-scale, long-format independent project. This project is often, although not always, connected to the supervisor’s project. The seminar covers basic research skills and provides a forum for development, feedback and check-ins over the semester.

Students set their own schedules for schoolwork: some do their homework in the evenings, some wait until the weekend, some work on it throughout the day. Workplaces are variable: students do work in their offices, at the library of their museums or public library in their neighborhood, in the Library of Congress, on the mall, in their residence, in coffee shops, etc. As the semester advances, students will be spending a larger amount of time on their independent project and final paper.

How do I find housing?

You are responsible for your own room and board. There are also several agencies in D.C. which specialize in finding housing for the many interns who work there. The College employs a recent Smith graduate as a liaison to help with housing. In mid-April, she will speak with students who have been accepted into the program about housing and other nonacademic matters. Though she will not find housing for you, she will recommend strategies for locating places on your own. The liaison continues to serve as a resource and support for students once they arrive in D.C.

What are some popular housing options?

In 2018, popular housing options were: Thompson Markward Hall $, housing with family $, Intern Housing Networks (WISH/WIHN) $$, Airbnb $$, Capitol Hill Stay $$$

Thompson Markward Hall (TMH) is a women's boarding house located on Second Street NE in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. In 2018, room and board (2 meals a day) cost about $1200/month. The Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the Capitol Building are literally your neighbors. It is also very close to a Metro stop, and a short walk from Eastern Market where there are many restaurants and a Trader Joes.

It is similar to houses at Smith, but the living environment is very tied to the environment (i.e. political administration) of DC. Currently, many residents are Conservative and prospective residents should take this into consideration.

Intern housing networks (WIHN, WISH) have worked well for past students. WIHN in particular has proved easy to deal with in terms of paperwork and clarity of information

Some students have teamed up with Picker students and used Airbnb for housing.

Capitol Hill Stay, for studio apartments (more expensive) can be a good option for students who have specific needs: own kitchens for allergies, for example.

The College employs a recent Smith graduate as a liaison to help with housing. In mid-April, she will speak with students who have been accepted into the program about housing and other nonacademic matters.

What happens to my financial aid?

Your family contribution will be determined exactly the same way if you go on the Smithsonian Program as it would be if you were studying at Smith. The only differences are 1) Smith College will replace Federal Work Study or Campus Work Study with a loan in any term a student is studying away from our main campus, and 2) you will not be charged by the college for room and board while you are away. You will be responsible for paying for your own housing while away from campus. If you have questions about how your specific aid will be affected by participating in the Smithsonian Program, you should schedule an appointment with Student Financial Services to discuss your concerns before leaving for Washington.

What do I need to do once I've been accepted?

Accepted students should confirm their participation with American Studies and file an Approved Study Off-Campus or Studying Elsewhere Senior Year form with the College before May 1.

What can I do with this experience, during and after Smith?

The Smith College Museums Concentration represents a clustering of academic course work, practical experience and independent research dealing with the collection, preservation, interpretation and display of artworks, artifacts, manuscripts and archives, and historic sites. Students who have completed the Smithsonian Program are well-positioned to complete this concentration. Graduates of the Smithsonian Program are also well positioned to pursue graduate work in art, history and science museums. The director and chief curator at the Smith College Museum of Art is a Smithsonian Program alumna, as are many of the curators with whom you will work at the Smithsonian itself.

Applying to the Smithsonian Program

Smithsonian curators submit their internship needs for the following fall term to the Smithsonian Office of Fellowships, which provides them to the Smith College American Studies office, usually in January for the following year. Interested Smith students read about the projects and select three among the proposed internships. Applicants list relevant courses, including course titles, grades and instructors, as well as previous work experience. Applicants then write a brief essay outlining how this program fits into their overall academic program and how it would serve as preparation for future plans and the reasons for their internship choices. After being accepted into the program, the Smithsonian Fellowship Office will pair applicants with projects.

How To Apply

The applications for Fall 2021 are due at noon on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Decisions about the students who have been accepted for the internship go out on March 19, 2021. Students must notify American studies of their intent to participate by March 29, 2021.

Other Requirements
  • A sample graded paper (about 5 pages) on a topic as close as possible to your preferred research project(s).
  • Two letters of reference, one of which must come from a Smith Faculty member. References should email their references to the program administrator at by the application deadline.
  • An official transcript (minimum GPA is 3.0), which must be requested from the registrar’s office.

Student Experiences

“I was able to take what I had been learning in my classes at Smith, putting my knowledge into action, researching, writing and working on projects that covered every one of my interests.”
Hannah Elbaum ’19

“I loved the liveliness of D.C., my fantastic supervisor and the incredible Smith students I became friends with during this unique program.”
Samantha Page ’17

“Everyone with whom I had the privilege of working at the Smithsonian was enthusiastic, helpful and ensured that my experience was memorable and meaningful.”
Sylvie Wise ’17




Department of American Studies
Wright Hall 226
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-3510

Director: Brent Durbin

Administrative Assistant: Jeanette Wintjen