Name: Natalia Mayorga  

Hometown: Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Currently reside in Delray Beach, FL  

What is your major? Criminal justice with a certificate in conflict and dispute resolution. Global Learning Medallion student.   

Where did you intern? I had the opportunity to intern this summer with The Smithsonian Institution and one of its 25 affiliate museums, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, in partnership with Emerson Collective. 

What was your title? Smithsonian Affiliate Digital Learning and Engagement Intern / 2021 Emerson Summer Youth Leader.  

How did you get your internship? Handshake notified me of the opportunity, and I applied. 

What were you doing there?  

Emerson Collective is a corporation that was founded in 2004 by Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs). It has a strong focus on creating systemic change in education, immigration, climate, equity and justice as well as cancer research and treatment. As part of this innovative youth team at Emerson Collective, in partnership with The Smithsonian Institute and its affiliates, I was assigned to work with the Smithsonian Affiliate organization, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). MDAH and the other Smithsonian Affiliates, like Emerson Collective, are committed to education, public service and community engagement. These are topics of interest to me. 

This was a virtual internship experience where I worked with MDAH Volunteer Services Coordinator Tony Schnadelback and Assistant Director of Education Shira Muroff alongside two other bright and promising interns, Camille Ofule from Boston University and Gabby Mota from The University of Portland. Together, we collaborated to create three original collections for the Smithsonian Learning Lab that tell a cohesive narrative about race and social justice.  

What projects did you work on? 

The three Learning Lab collections my team and I created used MDAH digitalized content as well as other available digital Smithsonian content. We conducted research individually and collaborated to form cohesive and accurate narratives on our topics of focus. Our labs focused on The Leaders of The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, The Great Migration and The Greenbook and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Using the content and research we discovered both through MDAH and The Smithsonian Institute helped us create these learning labs that will be available for the 50,000-70,000 monthly users of the Learning Lab platform and support the Affiliate’s existing or planned educational activities. Our collections and reflections on the internship experience were presented for an online audience during a capstone experience for the Emerson Collective National Youth Conversation.   

How does your internship connect back to your coursework? This internship connects back to my coursework because as a criminal justice student, I am passionate about social justice, especially when it comes to equitable education and opportunities to succeed for youth.  

What is the coolest thing that happened during your internship?  

I really enjoyed hearing and engaging with guest speakers during Emerson Enrichment Collective Conversation weekly programming. These guest speakers all provided insight on programs or advocacy surrounding several different topics of interest.  

Some of the guest speakers which really encouraged me to continue my studies and pursue my passion of helping minority youth were guest speakers such as former U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in addition to Craig Nash, Melvyn Hayward and Paul Robinson, who all are part of Chicago CRED. Chicago CRED is a nonprofit organization that has partnered with Emerson Collective to serve its mission to end gun violence while following a holistic approach that consists of street outreach, coaching and counseling, workforce development, as well as advocacy and prevention. This program aims to help young men and women usually within the ages of 17-24. 

This program is inspiring because they are exploring new ways to actively engage and provide tools for success to youth while also incorporating the experiences of life coaches who want to be good mentors to young folks. Many of the life coaches have themselves experienced adversities such as violence, gang involvement or prison terms. This program is tackling head-on the realistic and challenging issues that face youth, especially young Black men and women, in Chicago. I find the work that they are doing impactful and motivating. 

What have you enjoyed most about your experience?   

It was so nice to work together with likeminded individuals and gain new knowledge and understanding about important topics including but not limited to: race and social justice, community health and Covid-19 vaccine education, conservation and climate change, changing the American narrative (immigration, civics, media) and women’s history. This internship experience has expanded my understanding and ability to engage with others regarding different topics pertaining to local, global, international and intercultural problems.  

What have you learned about yourself? 

I have learned that I am more ready than ever to engage in projects that help to empower youth. The passion I have to help youth is needed in many different areas of social justice and education. This internship has taught me about programs other organizations including XQ Institute, which has allowed me to gain a better understanding of where I would like to focus my career goals upon graduating from FIU.  

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process?  

My advice is to first understand what your personal values and visions are. Upon identifying this, it is important to apply for an internship with an organization and/or company that supports those values and has a vision that you can identify with and support. Upon doing so, when the opportunity comes along, apply without hesitation.  

I strongly encourage students to take advantage of the Handshake platform, which aids in finding internships that align with one’s interests and goals while also facilitating the application process. I found this tool to be invaluable during my search for the right internship.

How has the position increased your professional confidence?  

This internship position has allowed me to work on skills such as team building and collaboration as well as increased problem-solving skills. I also feel that my public speaking has improved a great deal. I have a much clearer understanding of what programs, policies and advocacy work align with my vision and passion as well as where I would like to venture career-wise upon graduating.  

How has the internship expanded your professional network?  

The biggest advantage to networking in this internship has been the ability to not only engage with professionals within Emerson Collective but also professionals within The Smithsonian Institute and The Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Furthermore, having the ability to connect with interns all across the United States who share similar passions about social justice and change, has been inspiring. And I am happy to be able to remain in contact with them and see how each of us makes a difference in our communities and beyond. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his quote, which is proudly displayed on the Emerson Collective site: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it”.  

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