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History Program Encourages Students to Explore Research, Internship Opportunities

Misericordia University History students

The Misericordia University History department offers unique opportunities for student research and professional development, often connecting students to regional and national museums. History majors have the unique opportunity to blend the present and the past during many of their research projects and internship experiences. 

Jennifer Black, Ph.D., associate professor of history and government, specializes in the study of 19th century U.S. history, visual culture, and capitalism. Dr. Black has been involved in several undergraduate research projects during her time at Misericordia, as well as supervising students while on their internships. 

Over the past eight years, she has guided students through several public history exhibits with local historical societies to preserve history throughout the Wyoming Valley. Misericordia students have the opportunity to receive summer research stipends to work directly with faculty on research as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program, and history majors have consistently won the competitive fellowships since 2015. Many of these projects can be found online on the MU Local History Projects website. 

For “Mapping Historic Pittston,” Dr. Black’s students “created a digital walking tour of downtown Pittston. They chose key points along Main Street and researched what was at that location at three different moments in time," said Dr. Black. She and her students partnered with the Greater Pittston, Pa. Historical Society to complete the research and online exhibit. The project shows what the building or location looks like today and traces it backwards over the years. Iconic Pittston locations such as the unique Flatiron building, constructed in the early 1900s that stood until 1962, are featured. The Flatiron building was home to many small businesses that were important to the Pittston community, including barbers, clothiers, grocery stores and a bank. “This was a really fun project for the students and one I'm particularly proud of,” Dr. Black shared.

Sarah Sporko '20 and Kendall Williams '23, have both interned at the Anthracite Heritage Museum, which focuses on the history of coal mining and its impact on northeastern Pennsylvania. In the summer of 2018, Dr. Black was the co-curator of a photography exhibit there, and brought Sporko on as a SURF Fellow for a paid research assistantship. When the assistantship ended, Sporko was brought on by the museum as a curatorial intern. This experience led to a subsequent internship in the spring of 2020 at The National Archives in Washington, D.C., one of the most prestigious museum internships in the country. 

"I wanted to do something with history. I had big dreams of going to Washington, D.C. and working with politicians but wasn't sure that's really what I wanted to do. At the end of my sophomore year Dr. Black was looking for an assistant at the Anthracite Heritage Museum. That experience made me realize that I love to work in museums," said Sporko, who graduated from Misericordia with bachelor’s degree in History with a double major in Government Law and National Security. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Library Information Science program at St. John's University with a goal of becoming a museum curator. 

At the National Archives, Sporko worked as a dual Education and Exhibits Intern working on a new exhibit that was replacing a temporary exhibit. "Everything The National Archives does shows the government's side of history. We were closing out the Suffragette exhibit and preparing a new exhibit on Sports in America, which was delayed due to Covid," she explained. Every single sport that any American would play would be exhibited. In addition to researching and preparing exhibits, Sporko also assisted with education programs, including the Sleepover in the National Archives event where students aged 8-12 spend the night at the museum. 

"I was exposed to so much during my internship. We got to learn their selection process for deciding new exhibits. They asked for our input which doesn't happen very often.” Unfortunately for Sporko, the Covid-19 pandemic hit right in the middle of her internship at The National Archives. “It was only two months because of Covid, but it was a great two months," she said. 

One of the responsibilities of history professionals is not only sharing information from the past but recording what is happening in the present to preserve that information for future generations. In the Fall of 2020 Dr. Black's students collaborated with the university archives to document the experiences of Misericordia community during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"The College of Arts and Sciences received a National Endowment for the Humanities CARES-Act grant which partially funded the project. It was a big win for the university," explained Dr. Black. Seven history students worked together to build the entire project; they worked with the university archivist to create a call for submissions, they wrote the FAQs, prompts for the faculty members involved, created the publicity materials, and more. 

Kendall Williams '23, a Public History major, was involved with the pandemic project as part of her Introduction to Public History class. "At that time everyone was adjusting to dealing with the pandemic and everything that came along with it. We immersed ourselves in what was happening. We learned how to document these events," said Williams. "In class we talked a lot about the ethics of documenting history as it happens and how you can get the public to participate. The project was a great way for us to dip our toes into that."

Williams, who is also considering a career in museum curatorial work, felt this project was a way for her to understand the process. "My primary focus will be working with the public; to make things easily digestible. Being involved in the Covid project helped me better understand the type of work I will be doing in the future," she said.  

Sporko summed up how her experiences as a history major at Misericordia prepared her well for her career.  "You can do so much with a history degree. It gives you a solid background in research and writing and those skills are transferable to any type of job," she said. "I didn't know I could do the things that I did."