Done By Volunteers & Interns

Done By Volunteers and Interns Blog

Activities and accomplishments of Minnesota Historical Society volunteers and interns


The Minnesota Historical Society's volunteer and intern programs welcome people from all communities to engage in mission-related projects. Over 2,660 volunteers and interns contribute 53,400 hours hours annually. This diverse volunteer corps helps to achieve the MNHS mission — Using the Power of History to Transform Lives.

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Minnesota Place Names

By: Rebekah Bjork | October 19, 2018

MNopedia's "Minnesota Place Names" project volunteers and interns have completed the proofing of the geocoding for about 74% of the 6,114 entries in the Phase I project. Their work includes cross-checking auto-generated coordinates against a variety of maps, both in the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota Historical Society and online. In the case of rail stations and post offices that are no longer around, they take the sleuthing a step further, digging into old railroad maps and other resources to find long-forgotten locations. The work takes a good dose of patience and fortitude! Accuracy is key, as each geocoded location will be included in an interactive map when Place Names is added to MNopedia, hopefully at the end of June 2019. 

Many thanks for your dedication, Place Names team!


Submitted by staff Linda Cameron

Musical Contributions Lead to July 4 Event Success

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 6, 2018

The Historic Fort Snelling Fife and Drum Corps is a student-staff musical ensemble dedicated to representing the fort’s history through music. The goal of the Fife and Drum Corps is to gain a national reputation by performing throughout Minnesota and participating in fife-and-drum musters and clinics across the country.

Founded in 1971, when the historic site opened, the corps took a hiatus after only a few years. Music duties at the fort were handled by the interpretive staff, but their performance opportunities were limited. The full corps was revived in 2014 using staff musicians and student volunteers. The musical repertoire now spans from the Revolutionary War through World War II, including the years when Fort Snelling was an active post of the United States Army.

The Fife and Drum Corps program at the Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote runs from February through August each year. Through this program, students age 14 and older have the opportunity to volunteer as musicians and perform in concerts and field shows in the fort, from late May through mid-August. The corps also performs in concerts and parades in the Twin Cities area. Students are trained and led by fort staff with fife and drum experience.

Corps members learn period duty calls and military music, depict one of the earliest military musical units in the state, share music history with Historic Fort Snelling visitors, perform at historic sites and in area parades, and serve as musical ambassadors for the Minnesota Historical Society and the State of Minnesota.

On July 4, 2018, the Historic Fort Snelling Fifes and Drums gave 11 musical performances during the Independence Day Celebration at Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote. A few members also gave informal concerts on period instruments during their break time. Many coworkers and visitors praised the volunteer musicians' contributions to the success of this event.

Thanks to all staff and volunteers who helped make the July 4th celebration at Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote memorable!

Photo by Karadin

MNHS Intern has a Bright Future

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 6, 2018

Luqman was hired as the Somali Community Engagement Special Project Intern in January 2018. Luqman worked on developing worthwhile volunteer experiences, recruited individuals from the Somali community to volunteer for the new Somalis + Minnesota exhibit, and worked with community organizations to develop meaningful relationships. Throughout the course of his internship, Luqman attended numerous college and community events to recruit volunteers. Luqman contributed more than 290 hours in 6 months!

Volunteers & Interns Manager, Jean Nierenhausen, stated “Luqman has fabulous recruitment skills. His goal was to recruit 8-10 volunteers from the Somali community, and he exceeded his goal and helped recruit 12 volunteers from the Somali community who agreed to assist with the opening and events throughout the run of the Somalis + Minnesota exhibit. He has connections with the Somali community and was able to advise us on exhibit content, terminology, pronunciation and culture. He has a bright future ahead of himself. He is interning with Travelers Insurance this summer and will return to MNHS this fall to participate in the Fellows program.”

Thanks, Luqman, for all of your hard work and dedication!

2018 MNHS Student Scholarship Winners

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 3, 2018

This is the sixteenth year of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Student Scholarship program. The program recognizes the contributions that high school students make to MNHS by awarding graduating seniors a $1,000 scholarship. Nathan, Antonio, and Jonathan are all graduating high school seniors who have made tremendous contributions to MNHS by sharing their time, energy, and talents.

This year, the application process included a rigorous process as we looked at the student total years and hours of service, an essay, and letters of recommendation from a teacher and their MNHS staff supervisor. A selection committee made up of MNHS staff, volunteers, and interns interviewed these students and awarded Nathan Alemu, Antonio Dominguez, and Jonathan Rosario each a $1,000 scholarship.

Nathan graduated from Tartan High School in June 2018. He became a volunteer at MNHS in October 2016, and has contributed more than 55 hours of service. Nathan has volunteered as a visitor services greeter and a coat check volunteer. He says the biggest thing he has learned while volunteering at MNHS is the necessary skills for his ambitions as a future lawyer and community leader. He learned about the complexities and the diversity of Minnesota communities that he hopes to serve one day, and is able to better understand his own community in order to be an advocate for them. Nathan plans to attend the University of Minnesota in the fall and will be studying Economics and French Studies.

Antonio graduated from Highland Park High School in June 2018. He became involved with MNHS in the summer of 2015 as a part of the Summer History Immersion Program (SHIP), and has contributed more than 235 hours of service. Antonio has also been involved in History Day and as a Kurtzman intern at MNHS. He says the biggest thing he has learned while being involved with MNHS is having the experience of a real working environment. With the help of his mentors, he strengthened his public speaking skills and learned how to best collaborate with others to find the most successful way of completing tasks. Antonio plans to attend St. Paul College in the fall to receive his general education, and then will attend Metropolitan State to receive a degree in Nursing.

Jonathan graduated from Eastview High School in June 2018. He became a high school intern at MNHS in June 2016, and has contributed more than 100 hours of service. Jonathan has also volunteered as a Museum Assistant for the Gridiron Glory exhibit. He says the biggest thing he has learned while being involved with MNHS is keeping busy and staying aware of your goals. He also learned to be a friend to everyone, always have a smile on your face, and be courteous to everyone. He also learned that history is a necessity and you can learn it wherever you go. Jonathan plans to attend the University of St. Thomas in the fall and will be studying Pre-Law and minoring in Psychology.

Pictured from left to right: Jonathan Rosario, Senior Director Melanie Adams, and Antonio Dominguez. Not pictured: Nathan Alemu

Self-Motivated High School Student Gains Experience

By: Rebekah Bjork | June 12, 2018

Naya is a high school senior who recently completed an internship with our Collections Department. Naya’s work included researching back issues of the MNHS scholarly journal Minnesota History for references to MNHS Collection items and cross referencing that data with queries in our complex museum cataloging database to create a spreadsheet of linked data. She also worked hands on with the Collection, scanning paper items for use in our collections database and applying metadata to the images. Additionally, Naya has shadowed staff working in our Textile Conservation Lab and and met one-on-one with many staff members across the organization to learn more about the many professions within museum work.

Staff supervisor Sondra Reierson said “Naya has been a joy to work with. I have developed a very high regard for Naya based on her outstanding contributions throughout the term. Throughout her time here Naya has acted professionally, been timely and respectful. She consistently delivers a quality product with speed, accuracy, and thoroughness, managing her time well throughout. Naya learned quickly during her training and has since worked independently but asked pertinent questions as they arose and asked for help as necessary. She is self-motivated and shows great initiative in meeting her goals. In short, Naya has been an ideal intern.”


Submitted by Sondra Reierson 06/01/2018

Valuable Volunteer

By: Rebekah Bjork | June 1, 2018

Pete has been volunteering with the Minnesota Historical Society since March 2018. So far, he has contributed more than 90 hours! Pete has assisted with History Day, Special Events, and primarily serves as a Data Collector for the History Center exit surveys.

Recently, Pete assisted with an event at Historic Fort Snelling. Staff supervisor Caitlin McGowan said “Pete was so wonderful to have on hand. He was proactive and positive all day long, which really helped me as we had to troubleshoot a few scenarios. I could not be more grateful for his presence.”

One of the main projects Pete is working on is data collection for the History Center exit surveys. Staff supervisor Sheila Brommel said “In this important project, he stops visitors and interviews them to learn who is visiting the History Center, what motivated them to visit, and what their experience was like. Pete has a natural ability to engage with visitors by asking them to participate in a survey. He is able to get visitors to expand in depth to the questions. He digs deeper to find out specifically what they liked about an exhibit, or what they didn't like about parking, for example.  He is able to do this because he genuinely cares about what visitors have to say. He has familiarized himself with the exhibits and other spaces, so he understands what they are referring to and can ask them to elaborate.

“Pete recently expanded his role to also co-facilitate the training of new volunteers to conduct a similar survey at Mill City Museum. This was the first time we formally included a volunteer as a co-facilitator and it worked well. The new volunteers appreciated hearing the tips and suggestions directly from one of their peers.

“Pete and the other survey volunteers are making an invaluable contribution to our evaluation efforts. It's vitally important to hear directly from our visitors. We wouldn't be able to do this work without their help.”

Pete said “The number of staff who have valued and treated me so well at MNHS just grows and grows, motivating me to contribute more whenever I can.”

Seeing the "Big Picture"

By: Rebekah Bjork | May 29, 2018

Volunteer Karen is a former assistant principal and retired executive director of the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation. She came to the Minnesota Historical Society in 2014 to meet people and get involved in her new community.

Throughout her time at MNHS, she has worked on the Special Events team, assisted the Volunteer & Intern Programs with strategic planning, worked as a data collector for the Toys exhibit, served as a member of the Service Enterprise Advisory Committee, conducted evaluation interviews with skills-based volunteers and wrote the summary report, and helps personalize and send new volunteer packets as part of the on-boarding process.

Karen has an extraordinary ability to analyze details and see the “big picture.” Her quick wit always adds fun to our days!

Thanks, Karen, for all you do for MNHS!

College Groups worked to Re-House Inmate Case Files

By: Rebekah Bjork | May 29, 2018

Pictured above: The University of Northwestern group

Recently, we’ve had three groups of college students from Macalester College, the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts, and the University of Northwestern, who worked to re-house contents of boxes of the St. Cloud State Reformatory inmate case files.

The University of Minnesota brought nine first-year students to work on re-foldering St. Cloud State Reformatory inmate case files. The University of Northwestern group has been coming to the Minnesota History Center once a year for the past nine years. This year, they also worked on re-foldering records from the St. Cloud State Reformatory inmate case files.

The group of students from Macalester College started in February 2018. Staff supervisor Charlie Rodgers stated “Again, I was very pleased with the work the Macalester students did for the State Archives. I estimate during their several weeks of work, they re-housed the contents of 25 boxes of St. Cloud State Reformatory inmate case files. They did accurate work and were a pleasure to work with.”

Thank you to students from Macalester College, the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts, and the University of Northwestern for the continuous support you provide to the State Archives at the Minnesota Historical Society!

MNopedia All-star

By: Rebekah Bjork | May 10, 2018

MNopedia volunteer Mary has been one of our most dedicated and prolific researcher-writers since she started working with the project back in January of 2016. She has published eight articles to date covering a range of topics from horticulture to state parks and to pop culture icons such as the Hamm's Bear, SPAM, and Burma-Shave. Her Burma-Shave article has formed the basis of a the first MNopedia podcast from Historical Markers Media, Inc., a new partner for our project. Seven of her articles have been chosen to be featured on MinnPost.

Watch MNopedia for more articles from this talented volunteer! Mary is now digging deep into research on the flu epidemic of 1918, and reports being pulled down yet another history rabbit hole after discovering an interesting, little-known story about leprosy in Minnesota.

Handyman Volunteer

By: Rebekah Bjork | March 22, 2018

Recently Skip worked with FMD staff and the store staff on an out-of-the-ordinary project for the Sights Store at the History Center. The store employees realized that slim, flat merchandise had been slipping down, over the years, into the air register grilles in the ledges under the outside windows. They retrieved most of the sunken merchandise, but needed a way to prevent it happening again. Skip advised us on size and type of adhesive gasket to use to fill the extra gap along the side of the registers.

The store staff emptied four bookcases so the building engineers could remove them from sitting on the ends of the vents. Skip and I worked together about 6 hours to remove the register grilles from all four of the air vents, and install the gasket on both sides of all the grilles. While the grilles were out, we also removed any remaining objects from inside the vents, and day custodian Neil Metcalf vacuumed the vents. After we re-installed the grilles in the vents, the building engineers anchored the bookcases back in place and Skip and I reset the shelves, ready for store staff to replace the books when they opened the next day.

The air vents are low, and each vent is about 14 feet long. It was a workout, kneeling down and scooting along each grille twice to apply the gasket to both sides. We used about 112 feet of gasket!


Submitted by Juliann Kunkel