Five University of Houston students will head to Washington D.C. when the spring semester ends, the first participants under an agreement between UH and the Smithsonian Institution that will allow students to work with researchers at one of the organization’s museums or research centers.
“I think everyone sees the Smithsonian in a positive light,” said freshman Jeffrey Hong, one of the five. “Its only goal is to educate and inspire everybody.”
Hong, who is majoring in construction management, has applied to work at the National Air and Space Museum, the National Zoo or the National Museum of American History. The students haven’t yet received their final assignments.
But Hong said that doesn’t really matter. “I think working at the zoo, a museum, no matter what department, there’s something to gain,” he said. “I love seeing how things are run.”
Students previously could apply individually for internships at the Smithsonian, but the agreement – the only such agreement between the Smithsonian and a university west of the Mississippi – formalizes the relationship between UH and the Smithsonian, which consists of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities.
“As the only Tier One public research university in the fourth-largest city in the United States, our students have incredible opportunities every day,” said Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “But there is only one Smithsonian in the world, and that is why this partnership is important, as it will offer a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for our students.”
Mary Ann Ottinger, associate vice president for research at UH, worked closely with the Smithsonian and other national organizations during her tenure as a professor and administrator at the University of Maryland and said she is delighted to see this partnership between UH and the Smithsonian Institution.
The first group of students will be in Washington D.C. for three weeks, but Ottinger said ultimately both the University and the Smithsonian hope the program includes UH students spending the fall or spring semester there. That will require UH to determine how students can earn academic credit for an internship in order to keep students on track to graduate in four years, she said.
The opportunity will also be open to UH faculty, Ottinger said.
The first group of students – Hong, Lenore Caston-Miller, Isme Corre, Ben Lueders and Madison Richard – all are part of the Honors College. Alison Leland, associate director of the UH Bonner Leaders program, said the college will provide each student with a $1,500 stipend to defray air fare and lodging costs. The students will stay on campus at Georgetown University.
Honors College Dean William Monroe saw the Smithsonian opportunity as a way to expand the study-abroad and study-away offerings at the Honors College, Leland said.
She noted that four of the five students, including Hong, have never been to Washington D.C., and said students will be encouraged by Smithsonian officials to get to know the city, as well as to work inside the Smithsonian.