Students “Explore America” through Starr Center internships

By Heather Fabritze

Student Life Editor

Washington College students explored career opportunities over the summer through the Starr Center’s Explore America Summer Internship program.

The initiative offers paid jobs at “leading cultural institutions” that are specifically reserved for WC students, according to the Starr Center’s website. More students applied this past academic year than any year in the past, with internships being awarded to 32 students, across 16 different majors.

All four class years, from ‘22 to ‘25, were featured in the program.

Funding for Explore America comes from a wide range of outside donors, including grants from the Longwood Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and WC’s Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows. According to the website, the program has awarded approximately $530,000 to 109 WC students over the years.

One such student was history major and senior Alyssa Kovacs, who interned remotely with the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Kovacs, who described Explore America as “WC’s best internship program,” spent the summer researching topics relating to Black women’s clubs in Harper’s Ferry. She spent ten weeks researching for a paper, which she then presented to her supervisor.

The most difficult part of the internship that she dealt with was the “spotty” nature of digitization.

“I think the worst part was knowing that I could be missing an, albeit small, part of my research because someone 100 years ago didn’t save that newspaper page,” Kovacs said.

Senior Hilde Perrin, who majors in history and German, was on the opposing side of the research process, digitizing items as the archival and digitization intern at the Maryland Center for History and Culture. She worked in-person in their research library for 10 weeks, converting physical documents into files for their online collections portal. 

Her favorite memory from the experience was a collection of civil war papers that she worked on, detailing the story of a man who was previously enslaved but released to join the U.S. Colored Troops.

“Getting to physically touch the documents, and then conduct research to understand his story was a really moving experience,” Perrin said. “Making his story open for research and available to the public was very humbling and provided a thrilling experience.”

Senior and environmental studies major Isabel Bendel-Simso believes that students should apply as a chance to work with professionals in their field. She had the opportunity to work with conservationists at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where she created programs, supervised campers, and talked with guests on the main floor.

Being able to educate kids about “conservation and the world around them” was Bendel-Simso’s favorite part of the experience.

“I also loved having conversations with kids who already knew a ton about marine ecosystems and were able to teach me something,” Bendel-Simso said.

Environmental science major and senior Camryn Bryan was located in Wilmington, Del. as a public horticulture and urban agriculture intern at the Delaware Center for Horticulture. She harvested produce and contributed to maintenance projects involved with the organization.

Bryan felt that this internship provided her with an opportunity to grow internally.

“This experience taught me that I am capable of much more than I think and that trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone can help you grow tremendously,” Bryan said.

Bryan, Bendel-Simso, Perrin, and Kovacs will all have the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with the rest of the WC community through presentations on Sept. 5 and 6. Presentations are open to any interested students.

Photo courtesy of Isabel Bendel-Simso

Photo Caption: Senior Isabel Bendel-Simso learning about conservation through practical application.

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