When I went in for my interview at the National Air and Space Museum, I learned that I would be helping plan a family day. Not just any family day – this was a one-time event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Union Balloon Corps.
The Union, what?
Staff wanted to inflate a massive balloon on the National Mall, invite Civil War reenactors to set up camp, offer hands-on activities inside the Museum, and partner with other museums and historic sites to make this program happen.
I felt energized by their vision and wanted to be part of this project. I had never heard of the Union Balloon Corps and wanted to learn about this seemingly incongruous cross-section of content areas.
I left the interview and decided that there were three reasons (in no particular order) I wanted this internship:
1. To learn
I wanted to learn about the Union Balloon Corps: The last time I studied Civil War history was in high school. Since then I’ve visited Gettysburg battlefield, other Civil War-related museums and sites, and read random news articles about the topic.
This aspect of the Civil War was new and intriguing. I dove into books, websites, blogs and forums. Who was this guy Thaddeus Lowe who founded the Balloon Corps? How did the balloons NOT get shot down?
I kept reading and researching until I formed a baseline knowledge of the subject – I’m no Tom Crouch (senior curator in the Museum’s Aeronautics Division) to be sure, but I felt I had enough information under my belt to start planning.
2. To be challenged
This event was going to be a challenge. Not only was the content new to me, I had never participated in an event that serves up to, potentially, 30,000 people. How do I create a fun, educational and meaningful experience for so many people?
I embraced this challenge as I watched the family day department plan other amazing events that impacted thousands of people at a time.
I even had a chance to pilot a binocular making activity that pays homage to Thaddeus Lowe’s binoculars we have in our collection.
3. To be better able to plan dynamic, innovative family days
I observed quickly that family days at the Museum went beyond telescopes and solar systems. They included African storytellers, Nepalese dancers, the Chromatics, kite makers and many other unique connections between the arts and space.
After observing and being part of these events, I learned about taking risks and really being creative in programming and partnerships.
I’ve tried to apply these lessons as I planned this upcoming family day. We hope to see you there!
View the full schedule of events.
Emily Kotecki is a family day programs intern at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and a graduate student at George Washington University studying Museum Education. She is helping to plan this event and can’t wait to see it come to fruition.