This is part two of two of CHM’s High School Internship Program blog series, compiled and written by an editorial taskforce of the Museum’s 2016 interns. Read part one here.
One thousand nine hundred eighty-nine conversations—that is the number of interactions that interns, like me, have had with the public in just six days! One recent interaction will stick with me for the rest of my life. It was a normal day at CHM; I was in Gallery 4 of Revolution, Birth of the Computer. I met a group of six college-age students visiting from China who were interested in computer science and were looking for one specific artifact: Enigma. As I started speaking with them, I realized the full extent of their passion for cryptography and computer science. Their eagerness to learn about the machine became apparent even through the language barrier. As I saw their delight from learning and looking at the Enigma and their genuine appreciation for my help, I became happy and satisfied I was able to make their visit more enjoyable and enlightening. This encounter made me realize the huge impact that we interns have on visitors.
Throughout the Museum, my peers and I interacted with visitors to share our love of history and computers. Our goal was to bring history alive, and our internship roles offered exciting and different ways of engaging visitors. At the Exploration Station, we encouraged hands-on learning. Engineering marvels like the comptometer and the Curta Calculator were available for the public to touch and explore. Visitors were even allowed to punch their own punched card with an IBM 026! Using fun facts and historical events, we explained the artifacts at the table with enthusiasm in order to make the history more interesting and exciting for the public.
As Gallery Interpreters in Revolution, we used one of the most engaging and fun methods of communication to share our knowledge: storytelling. In order to incite interest in the galleries, my colleagues and I researched and found interesting stories about the artifacts and their creators. Recently, we have been using Beam, a telepresence robot, to talk to visitors and to illustrate how CHM can engage visitors in remote locations.
My peers and I also learned how to convey information differently based on our audience. For example, when young children were excited to learn more about an artifact, we tried not to overwhelm them with information, but rather focused on the important milestones and themes behind the different machines. Alternatively, when having a conversation with an adult, we aimed to go more in depth and explained more of the technical information behind the artifacts. With these interactions, we were not only able to share our knowledge about computing, but we were also able to gain insight and learn about the real-life experiences from adult visitors. Furthermore, as teenagers, we were able to relate to visitors our age. These approaches allowed us to connect with visitors of all ages and share our knowledge in an effective and meaningful way.
These interactions had a huge impact on both visitors and interns. When we interns saw that the knowledge we were sharing was understood and that the visitor was genuinely appreciative of our work, it brought an unimaginable amount of satisfaction to us! This not only made us feel happy and more excited to share our knowledge, but also boosted our confidence and encouraged us to start more conversations with visitors. Additionally, these conversations helped keep visitors engaged and combated a condition known as “museum fatigue” as they move through the exhibition. Our hope was that, by interacting with us, visitors learned the value of technology, gained a natural curiosity, and became more curious about computers and its rich history.
Not only has our time here impacted the visitors and staff of this Museum, but it has also made a heavy impact on our lives as interns. Our day-to-day interactions with the CHM community has taught us a lot about computers, growing up, and career development. We interacted with over 20 visitors per shift, and we learned just as much from the visitors as we taught them.
One day, I was talking to a visitor about the Apple II computer, sharing the history of Apple and its first computer. After I finished describing the artifact, he and I got into a discussion about the computer. He began telling me about how he used it to program in middle school and explained how all of the different parts of the computer were used, which plugs went into which holes and what they were used for. I consider this an invaluable moment in my life, because it was during my very first shift in the gallery and it was the first time that I made a real connection with the visitor.
From a single discussion, I gained knowledge that I would never have obtained from a website or book, and was able to gain a small insight into the life of a stranger—a person whose life I can now proudly say I have impacted from that conversation. The thought that I am now a small part of the life of every single visitor I talked to is incredibly inspiring and motivates me to become a better version of myself each day and make an impact on the world.
Standing in the gallery each day gave me real insight into the evolution of computing. It used to be incomprehensible to me, how we went from an abacus to an iPhone; but now, after spending hours researching, walking through the entire gallery countless times each day, and talking to visitors that were part of the computing revolution, it isn’t confusing anymore—just inspiring. The history of computing allows us, as the future computer programmers and tech leaders of the world, to take a step back and view it in a perspective from which we wouldn’t otherwise. Every day I came in, I learned something new about how computing got to where it is today, whether it was how computer chips were made using silicon ingots, or how programs that are now stored on chips and drives used to be stored on stacks of hundreds of punched cards. But aside from expanding our knowledge on the history of computing, having to talk to people every day improved my speaking skills incredibly.
Before I came into this internship, I was a reasonably shy person. I would never talk to anyone that I didn’t know or didn’t approach me first, and speaking in front of more than two people, especially people I was not acquainted with, was one of my worst nightmares. I had trouble expressing my thoughts in words and have always had an underlying anxiety with expressing my true thoughts, for fear of saying the wrong thing. But this internship forced me to do just that. I had to trust that through my training, I had the correct information to relay, and I had no other choice but to rely on my own voice to do my job. And, as it turned out, it was not as hard as I expected. Over time, my confidence in my speaking abilities improved, and I was able to comfortably approach visitors and talk to them about my artifacts. Now, not only do I feel more confident doing my job, but through these weeks I have felt myself become more outgoing and open and less afraid to speak my mind.
Our time here has not only affected our personal lives, but our career paths as well. Both of Anushree’s parents are computer programmers, and she’s lived in the Silicon Valley all her life. Her friends knew how to program, and they talked about things like designing apps and forming startups in their free time. Yet, despite who her friends and family are, she never actually liked computers before her internship at CHM. However, she’s always loved history and museums. Thus, volunteering at a computer history museum seemed like the perfect way to try to understand the why-people-love-computers thing. I, on the other hand, have always imagined myself going into computer science. It’s what my dad does, and being raised in the Silicon Valley, I always assumed that was what I was going to do with my life. However, as I grew older, I started to ask myself why, and realized that I didn’t really have a reason. I didn’t know much about computers, aside from basic coding knowledge, and was not sure whether I was interesting in going into a tech-related field. This internship introduced me to what technology and the computer revolution is really about and made me realize that I want to pursue a career innovating in the form of computer science.
This experience has truly shaped me and my fellow interns in more ways than one. I could not be any more grateful for this opportunity and the amazing environment in which we work in. I now have a greater appreciation for those working in the tech industry. Coming out of this experience, I not only greatly expanded my knowledge about computers, but also acquired skills and memories that will continue to drive my passion for advancement for the rest of my life.