Whitman Mission Education Resource Trunk Coordinator Internship Final Report
Among the Whitman Mission National Historic Site’s numerous stated objectives,
environmental awareness has grown the most rapidly in recent years. With the
development of a new General Management Plan in September of 2000, the Mission
witnessed a renewed interest in the natural heritage of the park. This has resulted
in stream assessments, invasive weed reports, and restoration of a portion of
the grounds to native vegetations and conditions. The increased emphasis on
environmental management has created an expansion of interpretive services.
Through my internship as the Resource Education Trunk Coordinator, I am assisting
in expanding the Mission’s on-site and outreach educational programs to
incorporate environmental topics.
I initiated my internship by meeting with Mike Dedman (Mike_Dedman@nps.gov),my sponsor and the park’s Education Specialist. Mike’s duties include organizing cultural and historical demonstrations at the Mission, running tours and lectures, and cataloging all of the Mission’s educational resources. As a side project, Mike has a passion for salmon restoration issues and is working to engage elementary students in this project. At our first encounter, Mike immediately welcomed me and expressed his openness to new ideas and inputs. He was quite amiable and his excitement to expand the Mission’s education program was evident.
During our introductory meeting, we discussed both of our expectations for what my contribution throughout the semester will be. Mike’s primary goal for me was that I become familiarized with the mechanics of the National Park Service and the Whitman Mission. I was introduced to the responsibilities of my position and to the current condition of the existing trunk program. At the Mission, the Trunk Coordinator must develop themes, compile materials and inventory the supplies of a series of bins that cover various Mission-related topics. Rangers at the park and teachers in local schools then check out a trunk and present the encapsulated lesson, using the tools in trunk. Existing themes included; “Early 1800’s Toys,” “Fire Starting Demo,” and “Knitting.” After looking at the traditional bins, I expressed my concern that they were neither environmentally applicable nor entirely adaptable to classroom settings.
Through our discussions, we agreed that it was important to develop new themes for trunks that would find connections between the historical significance of the site and the environmental context of the region. To be suitable for the intended audience, we decided that the trunks also needed to reflect regional issues to ensure that they were accessible for students. I mentioned to Mike that I had an interest in actually presenting the trunks, in addition to just developing them. Together, we established another goal of my internship as learning about the application of the outreach trunks. Importantly, we also decided that we would be open to continuously developing my objectives throughout the semester as my projects progressed.
Initially, I began my tenure at the Mission by exploring the grounds and the interpretive facilities. I had visited the site once before with my parents, but I found it helpful to reacquaint myself with the amenities. Mike introduced me to both the resources that I would be using and to some of the other rangers who I might interact with. I spent an afternoon becoming familiarized with the artifact room – which included books, archaeological and natural specimens, and interpretive supplies – and the shed that stored materials for Project Archaeology, the first project I would be working on. I found that the Mission maintained excellent resources for the Trunk Coordinator position, so I had the fortune of working almost entirely on site.
In one of our initial meetings, Mike and I brainstormed ideas for future trunk projects that I, or future interns, could undertake. He first showed me the books that the Mission has begun to order for a project created by the Humane Society called Operation Outreach. The project endeavors to teach compassion for life and nature through exposing students to literature about animals. The Mission had a number of the books for the lessons, but they needed to be compiled into manageable trunks.
I found myself more interested in a curriculum guide by Aldo Leopold Society established to teach land ethics. The group developed lessons to correspond with each chapter in A Sand County Almanac, combining field observation with written reflection and activities. In a similar vein, the Leave-No-Trace program intended to extend its message through an educational pamphlet that could be expanded into a small backpack of outdoor ethics materials. These two projects appeared to have a lot of potential for trunk-development and more direct applicability to environmental issues.
The Whitman Mission owns a completed trunk that served as an excellent model for the construction of new education trunks. Project WILD Salmon was initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to raise consciousness about salmon restoration. A thorough lesson plan covered basic biological principles, political issues, cultural traditions, and environmental ethics. The project included a diverse mix of creative assignments and more formal lessons, such as puppet shows and debates over dam politics. Organizationally, the bin contained an inventory and an introduction to the entire contents, a lesson plan organized into chapters in a binder, and each lesson, complete with sample materials and instructions, encapsulated in individual folders. Because of the layout of the trunk, a teacher could pick up any given lesson and present it without having a background in the subject. I believe that this trunk served as a valuable resource for organizing new projects.
In the middle of October, the Mission organizes a mock archaeological dig by the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds. As a part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Project Archaeology, students learn about artifact ethics and the importance of understanding past cultures. In the past, area teachers presented the topics from a lesson guide created by the BLM, but the Whitman Mission hoped to improve on the format. In response, Mike and I worked together to create a Project Archaeology Trunk to compile resources for teachers to use in the classroom.
I began work on the trunk by organizing the lessons into a central notebook and corresponding folders. After familiarizing myself with the thematic content for each lesson, I developed cover sheets that posed a guiding question and inventoried the included supplies. For each of the folders, I included master copies of any worksheets or overheads that the teacher may require and the tools students will need to complete the activity. Some lessons benefited from extra resources to extend the concepts – for instance, I gathered actual tree slices to incorporate into a lesson on tree-ring dating. Through discussing the trunk’s application in the classroom, Mike and I decided to add a small bin filled with sand to simulate digs, as well as a collection of sample artifacts – bones, stones, glass, ceramics, steel – and archaeological tools.
Project Archaeology’s fixed lesson plan provided me with an opportunity to become more comfortable developing educational resources. In building the trunk, I managed to find opportunities to add to the already established program. With Mike’s assistance, I chose archaeology and anthropology videos to provide a way for students to understand the practical applications of the concepts they learn. I also accomplished my goal of creating locally related trunks through the videos (two of which deal with the Kennewick Man) and through independent research on regional place names for a lesson on ethnographies. Additionally, I found a set of slides, which documented the archaeology of the Whitman Mission, to include in the trunk.
In conjunction with Garrison Middle School, two Whitman Mission Rangers and I coordinated a simulated archaeological dig. Over the weeks leading up to the dig day, the students discussed archaeological issues pertaining to different subjects. In Social Studies, they learned about ancient cultures; in Science, they learned about dating and measuring artifacts; in Art, they created their own petroglyphs. All of these activities followed the Project Archaeology lesson plan and will be supplemented in the future through the trunk I constructed. By meeting with teachers who used the materials, Mike and I were able to decide on additions to the trunk that might suit their needs. For instance, teachers requested more information about the logistics of the dig. In response, we created a binder containing potential syllabi, all of the necessary worksheets and transparencies, as well as contact numbers for supplies.
The most valuable part of participating in this dig with the schools was the chance I had to shadow Mike as he demonstrated the technique of excavation. I attended Sue Parrish’s seventh grade science class on the day before the dig. Using the materials of the trunk, Mike presented overheads that explained the process of gridding a site for a dig and he reviewed the basics of archaeology, which the students had learned. With the sand bin and the brush and trowel, Mike assisted student volunteers in practicing proper dig etiquette. The students seemed to have a great time and appeared excited to go on their dig.
After the classroom session, Mike and Roger took me out to the site that they had begun arranging. They had laid down a layer of gravel, on top of which they buried ancient artifacts. On top of this, I helped them in arranging pioneer-era artifacts to tell a story. We re-created a dirt road with horseshoes and wagon ruts, and we designed a brick floor to represent the former building. After covering this all in another layer of dirt, we positioned stakes to cordon off specific units for groups to excavate. When the students came to the site, they spent their time unearthing a cataloguing the finds in their square, learning about archaeology through hands-on experience. This trunk was particularly rewarding to work on because of the opportunity it gave me to see the finished product in use.
After finishing Project Archaeology, I immediately began work on a trunk for the Operation Outreach program. In partnership with the Humane Society, the Whitman Mission purchased a series of books for grades ranging from Pre-Kindergarten to Middle School. To develop this trunk, I had to review the books that were used. Skimming nearly 50 children’s books proved much harder than it would seem. These books focus on themes of compassion toward animals and other humans – often, by recounting stories of lost puppies, or injured animals who finally find acceptance by a loving family. In all truth, this project pulled at the heartstrings. Additionally, Mike taught me how to use spreadsheets to organize and inventory all of the books included in the trunk. In order to track which books were circulated the most, I learned how to use a spreadsheet program on the computer to check out materials.
At the end of November, Mike left for a conference, which afforded me a chance to pursue a trunk that held more interest for me. One of the downfalls of this internship had been the lack of environmental applicability, but in pursuing my own project, I managed to bring in a bit more green connections. As my first entirely independent trunk, the Leave No Trace campaign offered a lot of flexibility. I ended up creating a backpack that contained two videos on wilderness ethics, three lesson plans, sample brochures on local low-impact techniques, ethical code backpack tags and posters. To round out the pack, I reviewed the program guides and chose a few activities and lessons that I found particularly engaging and compiled the materials they required. One of these was an exercise that required a ball of string to create connections between different students who represented members of the local ecosystem. A positive aspect that I saw in the approach this pack takes towards wilderness ethics is that it teaches ecology along with backpacking skills. I will be excited to hear how it is received.
When Mike returned, he assigned me my last project for the semester – the pioneer toys trunk. The mission had three separate programs involving pioneer and early American folk toys and had recently ordered additional games. My job was to cull the best of the toys and create one standard trunk to be used in classrooms to teach about pioneer life (one of the programs was designed for specific on-site use). I organized and inventoried a representative selection of materials, including wooden toys, musical instruments, educational materials, and reproduced guides to early American manners. It was very interesting to see how social norms for children have changed, but how many of our toys remain the same. Yo-yo’s, jacob’s ladders, jacks and marbles all went into the trunk, along with a few games that were new to me.
One aspect of the job that I found particularly interesting was the relative freedom of employees within the Park Service. As a government agency, certain strictures exist in what programs can be instituted and how to go about them. I noticed that this often results in a feeling of impotency among the rangers. Through talking with them about various subjects, many of the rangers appeared conflicted between their personal stances and the party line of the National Park Service. I imagine that the service draws most rangers because they genuinely believe in the value of our National Parks and historic sites. Once employed, they face limits on what they can say as a park ranger. I found this to be particularly clear when Mike and I decided to forego creating a wildfire education trunk because of the volatility of that issue and the pressure from the government stance towards fire. My experience at the Mission provided valuable insight into the workings of a government agency.
While I enjoyed my experience interning for the Park Service, I did run across a number of obstacles and frustrations in the course of my work. Perhaps the largest problem comes from the unique role that interns occupy in an organization. Personally, I found that the rangers at the Mission were unsure about how treat me. In some instances, I had very little freedom to work as I would like to – I constantly had to ask to be let into a certain cupboard or I was monitored while I worked online. On other occasions, Mike treated me very maturely and assumed that I could work independently, but usually on an aspect of the project that remained unclear to me.
Often, my frustration with this dual-treatment came from the fact that I felt like I was constantly underfoot. At the Mission, I shared my office with Mike and two other rangers. People constantly needed to get to their materials or workstations, and I felt that I was always in the way, particularly when I needed help most. When Mike had time to work with me, I was commonly completing a very basic job, such as inventorying supplies. When I needed the most assistance, Mike often had other responsibilities and left me with a task that I could not complete without his help. I decided that the best way to deal with this was to be very forthcoming about my weaknesses and ask for support as needed. Still, Mike had other job responsibilities and frequently could not help me.
The intern role was most frustrating when Mike was away for various reasons. Commonly, the jobs that he left for me to do in his absence were easily completed and I found myself without any work. Additionally, he often gave me directions to begin a new project but then failed to give any indication of where I could find the existing materials. As helpful as the other rangers tried to be, it was very difficult to work on the tasks I had without my direct supervisor. I often needed access to a computer or a certain room and the other rangers could not offer any assistance.
Budget posed another inevitable problem during my internship. The education trunks are grant funded, which frequently provides the Mission with only enough resources to purchase the educational materials. This left many of the projects without money for printing or lamination or new supplies. Frequently, we had to scavenge materials from previous projects. For instance, we could not buy new dividers for a binder, but rather had to re-label old ones. While I always managed to complete projects, and never had to sacrifice content, their aesthetics were oftentimes lacking. More than anything, funding frustrated me because I became so invested in my work that I wanted it to have a professional appearance. Rather than designing colorful printed inserts for binders, I had to settle for a combination of cut and paste and photocopying.
One point that I will mention for future interns is that this internship had very little environmental applicability. The Whitman Mission National Historic Site’s avowed focus is placed on cultural and historical education. Unlike the National Parks, the site does not offer many recreational opportunities, and accordingly does not offer much environmental education. However, they do maintain a number of environmental restoration programs such as stream assessments and revegetation, so the interest is present, it just is not fully developed in the interpretive services. At the beginning of my internship, I had worried about this after reading through Mike’s proposed projects, which mainly concerned Pioneer practices. We discussed the chance for me to develop my own environmental projects, but because Mike had a number of half-completed projects, I spent my semester taking care of standardizing and finishing existing trunks.
During my internship, I did find some avenues for ecological education. While shadowing Mike giving a tour to a local elementary school, I managed to get an insight into a possible environmental connection for Project Archaeology. According to his talk, the Mission is in the middle of a riparian restoration, but if they find any archaeological remains in the course of improving the stream, they will need to prepare environmental assessments of the project. The most significant environmental project that I worked on was the Leave No Trace Backpack, which I hope will be used to encourage community involvement in the outdoors. Perhaps because of my work this semester, the next intern in my position will have more flexibility in pursuing environmental themes for the trunks.
In completing my internship, I believe it is important to review my initial objectives and see how successful my semester was. Originally, I had intended to develop my own trunk themes, but as my work progressed, it became clear that Mike had projects he intended for me to finish. I would have enjoyed creating a trunk to address local ecosystems and stream ecology, but I still found an avenue for my own ideas in creating the trunks that corresponded to existing projects. I feel very successful about having designed and produced four separate projects. The Project Archaeology Trunk was the most rewarding part of my job. It gave me the best sense of curating educational materials because I had the freedom to turn a single volume program lesson guide into a full trunk with extensional materials.
I am also very pleased that I was able to shadow Mike in a number of different educational settings. Rather than spending my entire job in the office, I was able to gain some field experience presenting materials and seeing the success of my trunks in the classroom. It was also through these opportunities that I found connections between the historical and the environmental – specifically in the context of Project Archaeology. I did not get as much experience working with budgeting and grants as Mike had originally said, but I now understand the insufficiency of the funding we allocate to educational programs. Through creating inventories, I gained practice with spreadsheets and their functions in record keeping. Looking back, I think that my greatest success of my internship was achieving insight into the National Park Service environment. I have a new respect for the rangers who work at our parks and an appreciation for the excitement they have about teaching the country about its heritage – both historical and natural.
To future interns, I have a few recommendations to make working at the Mission a success. First, I found that the best thing I could do was to be forthcoming with my ideas. If there is something that you would enjoy the opportunity to work on, explain your hopes to Mike. I found that he and the other rangers were more than willing to accommodate my interests. Additionally, if you ever have any concerns about your role, what is expected of you, or about Mike’s involvement – be honest and ask for assistance. Sometimes, I found it necessary to write out my requests to the rangers if I needed their help – they have a lot of other responsibilities beyond helping interns. Perhaps the most important thing you can remember is to remain flexible and positive. The Park Service offers a fantastic service to students in letting them intern and discover their interests in the workplace. Some projects will inevitably be less interesting than others, but the reason that you are in the internship is to experience working for the National Parks – a rewarding opportunity.