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Intriguing internships: Classical archaeology at VMFA

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    William & Mary  student Mary McCulla '16 stands next to an 1800 year old Severan-era mosaic she was assigned to research while interning at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia.  Photo courtesy of Mary McCulla
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Many William & Mary undergraduate and graduate students take advantage of the summer months to broaden their skills and gain experience in their chosen fields through internships. This is the eighth and final story in a series exploring some of the intriguing internships that students are engaged in this summer. — Ed.

This past summer, William & Mary student Mary McCulla ’16 a classical archaeology major, was given a rewarding opportunity to spend her summer with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) researching and gaining skills to apply toward her degree.

Hoping to experience what a career working in a museum might entail, she researched and sought out advice from family and her academic advisor, Maria Swetnam-Burland, an associate professor of classical studies. That’s when she put her name in the hat for the VMFA Intern for the Digital Resources Coordinator position and was selected from a pool of applicants.  

“This internship did relate to my major in many ways,” said McCulla. “I was assigned to research a Severan era mosaic from a Roman home and to edit a resource on Greece and Rome since I am familiar with those cultures.”

Being the only person working on the mosaic, it took McCulla approximately five weeks to finish. Once completed, the 1,800 year old mosaic was put on display in the museum.

“While some information was difficult to compile and process,” said McCulla. “I was eventually able to write a comprehensive overview of the history of the mosaic, its style and context.”

During her internship, McCulla also worked with the digital resources coordinator in the Arts and Education Department, helping to facilitate communication between the VMFA and the public.

“I learned a lot more about the interdependence of the different departments at the museum as well as the varied careers that exist,” said McCulla.  “I also learned about all of the work that goes into interpreting a new exhibit or gallery for the general public.”

McCulla went on to say that the most interesting experience for her was sitting in on a meeting that was planning the installation of an exhibit for next spring.

“Listening to the curator, along with tour services, the interpretations manager and the exhibition designer discuss exhibition really surprised me with the depth and the detail that goes into bringing art to life for the public,” said McCulla.

McCulla noted that she enjoyed her time at the VMFA and would recommend this type of internship to anyone seeking a challenging experience.  

“I would absolutely recommend this for anyone interested in museums,” said McCulla. “There are so many different departments which focus on different jobs like interpretation, conservation, art handling, and marketing, so there really is something for every interest. The VMFA employees are also very welcoming and helpful to their interns”