Kyra Uphoff wanted to stretch her horizons. An internship at the Smithsonian Institution made it happen.
Uphoff, a double major in anthropology and agriculture, was looking for an internship that would complement both academic interests when she heard about an intriguing opportunity through Missouri State’s Career Center.
It was a position with the Folklife Festival, held June 29-July 9 and sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
During the application process, Uphoff was given the opportunity to select her special interest in plants and fiber arts. Uphoff was then hired as Plant Knowledge and Crafts intern for the Ozarks Program part of the festival, one of eight students chosen to represent the Ozarks region of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The internship drew Uphoff’s attention because she wanted to work outside of the Midwest. Doing so allowed her to “work in a new environment and experience a different style of living.”
Expected to teach and to learn
The Smithsonian expected Uphoff to both teach and learn from others during the internship. “While I was there to help the festival run smoothly, it was also important to the Smithsonian that I learned from the participants as well,” Uphoff said.
“I had many discussions with the foragers and community garden folks over the course of the festival,” Uphoff added. “I was also able to learn from the white oak basket weavers. During some of my down time I was able [to] complete my very own white oak basket, which I was able to bring home with me.”
Uphoff’s daily responsibilities included setting up the site, participating in talks and demonstrations in the Teaching Garden, monitoring booths, discussing plant knowledge and packing up booths at the end of the day.
The experience met many of Uphoff’s expectations and gave her some important career insights.
One of her most important expectations was to apply her extensive skills in traditional felting and other fiber arts. “This internship allowed me to use my ethnographic skills and horticulture skills in the same setting,” Uphoff said.
It also allowed her to examine a career at the government level.
“I wanted to learn if I could work for the government,” Uphoff explained. “Working for the Smithsonian Institute was both a mixture of working within the private sector and the public sector.”
Establishing connections and making friends
Uphoff was surprised by the diverse career opportunities her studies at Missouri State have given her.
“As I was working in D.C., many of the professionals I spoke with encouraged me to look into and apply at the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture]. They saw my love for agriculture and the global perspective and pointed me in a direction I hadn’t thought of,” Uphoff said.
There were great perks to the job, too, such as developing important career connections.
“One of the greatest benefits going forward is the people I met in D.C.,” Uphoff said. “Within the Smithsonian I made so many great connections.”
Uphoff stayed with a friend during her internship who introduced her to several government employees, including a former State Department member, an individual from Navy intelligence and a retired Army colonel.
It didn’t hurt to be considered an employee of the Smithsonian, either, even if just for a couple of weeks.
“My favorite part of the internship was the access my Smithsonian ID gave me,” Uphoff said. “Even as an intern we were considered full employees, so that meant we didn’t have to reserve tickets to any of the museums. We could just go in the staff entrance and go on our merry way.”
Still, one of Uphoff’s best memories is of her colleagues in the Ozarks team.
“Once you see a group of people from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for ten days straight you get to know them very well,” Uphoff said. “As we bonded, we became like an extended family. We had inside jokes. We went out to concerts together.”
“It was an amazing experience to bond with so many people from all over the US and the world.”