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Gathering Pieces of Local History


Experience Information

Employer: Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Department
Job Title: Historical Intern
Major: Anthropology
Received Credit?: Yes
Paid?: No

Description of the Organization

The mission statement of the Ottawa County parks and Recreation Commission is: "To provide residents and visitors to Ottawa County with the highest quality leisure opportunities and to promote high standards for environmental quality and land-use planning through a resource-based system of parks, open-space lands, programs, and other services." The Commission is divided in to three main bodies: Administration, Planning, and Operations. My internship was supervised by the Natural Resources Manager, Melanie Manion, who is in the Operations division.

Description of the Tasks/Projects Completed

My primary project was to build and collect resources for a historical database. The purpose of the database is to provide a centralized, digital location for storing and organizing historical articles, documents, and pictures about the history of the parks lands and Ottawa County. It now has over 450 items in it, which means that anybody in the Parks Department can look in the database for a particular park, open space (a mostly undeveloped park), or greenway, and find specific historical information about it. Many of the tasks that I completed involved researching and obtaining historical documents and information about the parks. I visited libraries, searched the Parks Department files, called and e-mailed local historians, and visited people who had books or pictures.

Skills/Knowledge Gained Through The Experience

Through this experience, I honed many pre-existing skills: historical research, oral history interviewing, and organizational and reporting skills. I was exposed to a professional office environment, which I had never worked in before. I learned to use a new program called Microsoft Access that the database was created in, as well as learning to use the Countys GIS property mapping program. I gained an immense amount of knowledge about the pre-history and history of Michigan, particularly the area of Ottawa County. Through my assigned readings and my research for the database, I was exposed to information on everything from the Archaic Period of Native American archaeology, to archaeological papers and records about the first European contact with the Natives in the area (the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi), all the way up to the recent settlement of the area. I was also lucky enough to be involved in a Natural Resources Survey for wild rice and invasive common reed on the Grand River, which appealed to me as a Biology minor.

Favorite Part of the Experience

My favorite part of the internship experience by far was the amount of independence and responsibility that I had as the Parks and Recreation Departments first ever Historical Intern. It was my job to choose the details and direction of my internship, with guidance from my supervisor and the volunteers who originally suggested that the internship be created. I also had a hand in designing the shape of the database, as far as how data was organized and how it will be used. I enjoyed directing my daily activities, scheduling interviews, and choosing when to visit libraries. I also had the responsibility of preparing for the next Historical Intern, which included keeping meticulous records of everything that I did, and preparing an intern orientation packet of important documents and resources.

How the Experience Influenced Future Career Goals

I am still in the process of solidifying my future career goals, but I definitely plan to attend grad school. This experience has improved many of my interpersonal and professional skills, which will aid me in my future academic and professional pursuits. I also gained a deep knowledge of local history that has caused me to better appreciate American history at large, and has further expanded my multidisciplinary knowledge base.

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of GVSU.

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