Ashley Blackburn spent the summer working with hominin skulls and early human tools.
It's exactly what the Central Michigan University senior wanted from the international internship that she created.
"The skulls. They speak to me," Blackburn told her internship supervisor when he asked her to choose between organizing the museum's medical collection or skull collection.
The internship was at the museum for the University of Groningen — Rijksuniversiteit Groningen — in The Netherlands. Her internship ended in late July after her spring semester of classes in history and anthropology.
The internship work was in line with Blackburn's interests. The senior from Gladwin, Michigan, is majoring in public history and has minors in anthropology and museum studies. Her career goal is to become a research archivist.
The skulls and endocranial casts had been in the anthropology department since around the 1920s. They are used for classroom and research purposes, and the anthropology department was moving them to museum storage.
Blackburn cleaned, labeled and recorded all of the pieces. Nobody was telling her what she had to do along the way; this is stuff she already knew from her CMU classes.
"Sometimes I would need input because some of the records were written in Dutch," she said. "Google Translate also was a big help."
Blackburn was the first CMU intern at Groningen's university museum. Her experiences now are paving the way for future CMU students interested in international museum internships.
Creating opportunities for personal growth
Blackburn is a member of CMU's honors program and a McNair Scholar, so she understands that CMU offers a lot of engaging educational experiences.
But she never saw the opportunities she could create for herself.
Blackburn knew as early as her freshman year that she was going to study abroad. CMU Study Abroad offers more than 150 programs in 40 different host countries. More than 600 CMU students embark on study abroad trips every year.
She worked closely with her advisors Jay Martin and Brittany Fremion for nearly two years to develop her study abroad trip and coordinate it with her internship. Martin is a CMU history professor and director of CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History. Fremion is a CMU history professor and coordinator of the public history program.
Blackburn chose the University of Groningen because it offered history- and anthropology-related courses that will count toward her degree. Plus, all the classes were taught in English. Martin then connected her to curators at the university's museum, and she drafted the paperwork to create the internship program.
"I'm going to be an archivist, so I don't mind the paperwork," she joked. "Through my work, everything is in place for a future student to pursue a similar internship at the Groningen museum. I like that my opportunities will give other students opportunities to do more."
Blackburn continues to serve as a liaison between CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History and the University of Groningen museum.