Information Studies Pre-Grad Intern Arely Alejandro
Before, During, and After My IE Internship Experience
When I was a senior in high school my best friend at the time asked me what I was going to study in college and what my future career goals were. I simply replied, "I don't know, but I do know I want to do some kind of research. Research in what? I have no idea, but I'll figure it out." Why was I so certain I wanted to do research? I am still unsure of what I was thinking at the time but I still feel the same today. My first few years of college I became exposed to small research topics within my classes. I never inquired about independent research opportunities because I still felt lost and unprepared. It wasn't until my junior year that started to feel like I had a sense of direction.
Being the first in my family to attend college, the whole process was still a bit overwhelming. My parents knew as much as I did or possibly less. All my parents knew was that I was going to get a degree and eventually a job. Though my mother told me that my father would continue to support me if I decided to continue going to school after four years. That's when I started to consider the possibility of graduate school. When family members would question my parents about what I was studying and what I could do with an anthropology degree, they were as clueless as I was. I knew I enjoyed my major and the classes, and my interests kept growing with each and every class. I began to wonder how I could possibly pursue everything. I felt as if I lacked direction. All that changed when I applied for the Bridging Disciplines Programs. The BDP helped me understand how my education thus far has been interdisciplinary.
Anthropology and Information Studies courses such as, Cultural Heritage on Display and Preservation of Cultural Heritage introduced me to the field of archives, museum studies, and preservation. It suddenly dawned on me that those were the fields I wanted to study and pursue a career in. All the courses I have taken have all somehow intersected with issues of preservation. By then I had already been accepted into the BDP for Social Entrepreneurship and Non-profts. I felt as if I had found a direction but began to question whether that direction was the right one for me after all.
Preservation of Cultural Heritage was taught by Virginia Luehrsen, a doctoral student in the School of Information and my future IE graduate mentor. She was the one who introduced me to the program. During office hours, after discussing the final project, I told her about how her class made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in archives and preservation but that I found myself in the non-profit sector learning about educational issues. She informed me that many museums are non-profits and that if I wanted to we could continue discussing the different options for possible graduate schools in the fields I was interested in, such as preservation and education. A semester later we scheduled a meeting and filled out the IE Internship contract.
We decided that for the semester we were going to look into graduate schools, find programs and literature that discussed literacy issues, education, non-profits, social justice, information studies and anthropology to help formulate a BDP research project, and we decide on weekly meetings. What I thought was going to be a semester of research and readings turned into a semester of discovering and learning about the world of graduate school. She helped me create an excel spread sheet to keep track of the schools I was looking it, the programs, the deadlines, and the tuition. She shared her experiences and even shared her statement of purpose for both her master's and her Phd. Through her stories and my observations I was able to see what the life of a graduate student consisted of. Virginia often shared her experiences from undergrad, taking time off, and her experience during her Master's. I am also enrolled in another undergraduate class that she teaches, Research Strategies. By being in her class and being her mentee, I was able to see both worlds of a graduate student and a teacher.
Virginia was also able to connect me with four faculty members in the School of Information that I ended up interviewing and observing their graduate classes. All the professors welcomed me with kindness and with interest in what I wanted to study in graduate school and well as the IE Internship Program. Two courses introduced me to graduate students. The first graduate class I attended was Dr. Immroth's Visual Materials for Youth. There I met Minda Anderson, an elementary librarian at Becker Elementary. Now, I volunteer once a week in her library as part of my IE Internship, Kuhn's Scholar service learning project, and my Research Strategies final project. There I have learned what it is like being a librarian and a Master's student.
The second graduate class I observed was Dr. Caroline Frick's Politics of Preservation. Dr. Frick welcomed me and stayed after class to learn about my interests. She even suggested I enroll in her undergrads course Media Archeology, a similar course to Politics of Preservation. In that course I also met Mandy, a second year Master's student in the School of Information. When I told her I was looking into UCLA as a possible graduate school, she informed me that was her alma mater and that she used to be a counselor there. She then connected me with a Master's student, Annie, from UCLA who is in the archives program there. Through our emailing Annie informed me the main differences in the programs UCLA and UT offers. What stood out for me the most was Annie's description of each school, "UCLA makes leaders and activists (human rights advocacy, developing collections of minority groups, etc) in my opinion, UTA makes great preservationists (your school is good at preservation of physical documents), and U of Michigan generates great technological minds." That piece of information may be one of the deciding factors when it comes to choosing a gradate school to attend. Her description of UCLA making activists created a way for me to think of way to bridge both the non-profit sector and information studies into my career goals.
During our weekly meetings, Virginia and I often met in her office that she shares with another Phd student or at near by coffee shop. During those meetings we discussed what I had found during my research of graduate schools, how my class observations and interviews were going, and my volunteer experiences. She also shared with me her strategies of recording research and new class ideas. Virginia also helped me draft an email to potential faculty mentors for next semester as I pursue the end of BDP research requirement. With the help of the IE Internship, I gained a mentor, and with the guidance of my mentor I gained a confidence when it comes to expressing my research ideas to others.
Now, I am in the process of applying to graduate schools, and have decided whatever the outcome maybe I will defer a year to gain more experience in the field of information studies to help me determine which route to take. I am grateful and have enjoyed the IE Internship. When I look back on my experiences at UT, I will always consider IE as being the best part. The IE Internship has helped me discover a sense of direction.