Second-year Museum Studies graduate student Rebecca

Second-year Museum Studies graduate student Rebecca Thorn landed an internship this past summer at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She’s pictured here at the summit of Harney Peak. (Photos courtesy Rebecca Thorn)

A career in museums is what first drew Tennessee native Rebecca Thorn to the St. Louis region. It’s also what led her to South Dakota over the summer.

Following a successful phone interview with the National Park Service this past spring, the University of Missouri–St. Louis student packed up her car and drove to Mount Rushmore National Memorial for a three-month internship.

“I really wanted to go somewhere this summer – get out of town and do something,” said Thorn, who is looking toward her final semester in UMSL’s Museum Studies graduate program. “I’ve always had an enthusiasm for the park service – what they represent and what they protect.”

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Thorn poses for a photo with a Teddy Roosevelt reenactor on hand for the Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore.

The gig, called an “interpretation internship,” offered work experience across various aspects of her field, with Thorn lending her talents to the popular tourist destination’s information desk, programming, ranger talks and more.

“They say on average they attract between 2.5 and 3 million people a year,” Thorn said, adding that despite working on the Mount Rushmore grounds day after day, “there’s always that awe factor. It never really goes away.”

One of her responsibilities involved giving 15-minute presentations about the carving process in the Sculptor’s Studio, where a scale model of Gutzon Borglum’s 1927 design remains on display. She also built on her growing interest in St. Louis history by developing a presentation on Westward Expansion.

“Between the studio talk and the ranger talk, I did about eight presentations a week,” Thorn said. “It was another area of museum work that I hadn’t yet experienced.”

The internship came with a stipend and housing. Thorn worked Monday through Friday, leaving her the weekends to explore other spots in the region. In total, she visited 25 museums and 12 other national park sites over the summer.

“I was lucky to have another girl around my age that had the same days off,” Thorn said.

Together, the two hit Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. They also explored museums large and small in nearby Rapid City, S.D., and many locations throughout the Black Hills.

One of her favorite excursions was an organized hike up to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Thousands turn out twice a year for this “volksmarch,” considered the most popular such walk in the United States.

“It happened to be in June when I was there – a four-mile hike up and two miles down,” she said.

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Thorn’s classmate Sam Moore – also a Museum Studies graduate student at UMSL – stopped by and attended one of Thorn’s presentations in the Sculptor’s Studio while traveling out west.

Thorn also encountered a buffalo during her stay in the Black Hills. She and her friend were taking pictures beside a Custer State Park sign when another visitor told them a buffalo was nearby. They headed for Thorn’s car.

“About a minute later, we see a buffalo coming down toward us,” Thorn recalled. “It went right by the sign.”

Over the course of the summer, she logged more than 5,000 miles on her car’s odometer – well worth the distance, according to Thorn.

“Every single work or volunteer opportunity that you can get, take advantage of it,” Thorn said.

She’s made a habit of taking such initiative herself. Before enrolling in the graduate program at UMSL, she gained four years of work experience at the Saint Louis Science Center.

She’s also volunteered at the Historic Hanley House in Clayton, Mo., and contributed at other cultural institutions in the region – including on the UMSL campus, as a graduate assistant for the St. Louis Mercantile Library.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill