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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Reflections from a MNHS Intern

By: Rebekah Bjork | August 2, 2019

Kyle was the Evaluation Intern for 3 semesters at the Minnesota Historical Society. Below is a transcript of an interview with him.

Why did you apply for an internship at MNHS?

I applied for this internship for a few reasons, both professional and personal. Professionally, I have a lot of appreciation for MNHS as one of the most-respected state history institutions in the country and for its recent initiatives to tell a broad range of stories that have previously gone unrecognized. As a student of public history who would like to remain in Minnesota in my career, MNHS was a perfect fit. Specific to evaluation, I had experience on the front end of public history in archives, exhibits, and interpretation, but wanted to learn more about how exhibit, program, and site management staff determine the success of their initiatives and adjust accordingly.

Can you share 1 or 2 projects you worked on during your internship that you are proud of?

I am quite proud of all the work I did at Historic Fort Snelling last summer and into the fall. I conducted visitor intercept surveys for their general visitor program, a special event with Michael Twitty, and a prototype exhibit on soldiers' day-to-day lives at the fort. I also cleaned, coded, and analyzed that data a created reports which I presented before several of the staff members at the Fort and central MNHS. I've had the opportunity to do similar things for a few programs, create reports for nearly all the sites, and have presented for the staff at the Lindbergh House and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum as well as the staff and volunteers who contributed to Somalis + Minnesota. I've really learned a lot, both about evaluation and about what visitors value in their experiences. I also did a near total rework of the evaluation site on Fletcher, which was a completely different and valuable experience for me.

Where do you work now and how did your internship prepare you for this job?

I am currently working as a contractor for the MNHS evaluation team and am stationed at the Oliver Kelley Farm and the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum (where I actually had my first experience working for MNHS leading tours of the home three years ago). My internship directly prepared me for me current role, as I'm doing similar work to what I did as an intern. They've given me experience working in several museum settings, helped me develop a strong network, and given me the opportunity to see exhibits and programs through the eyes of thousands of visitors.

Praise from Kyle’s supervisor:

“Kyle became an indispensable part of the evaluation team, helping with whatever task at hand was. He was a quick learner, had excellent attention to detail and did exemplary work. He had excellent rapport with visitors and staff alike. He even helped provide training to the new Fort Snelling intern at the end of his final semester. His willingness to commute from St. Cloud for all 3 semesters of his internship speaks to his professionalism, dedication and passion for the field. He will undoubtedly make a huge contribution in his career.” 

Internships Designed for Learning

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 24, 2019

MNHS Press Design Interns Pader (MCAD class of 2018) and Amelia (Gustavus class of 2020) got a chance to assist MNHS Press staff with editorial support and print production, and learned about the marketing and design of publications. Both also created quality spot illustrations for upcoming MNHS Press title _Closing Time_ during their spring 2019 internships. Both interns created portfolio-worthy pieces while they worked on a variety of projects for the department. 

Weekend Farmer

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 18, 2019

Volunteer Gopal has been working hard during this hot Minnesota summer at the Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River. With his skills in gardening and trail management he is a wonderful asset to the team at the farm!

Gopal moved to Minnesota during the summer of 2017 from San Diego. He wanted to learn more about the history of a place he would soon call home, leading him to the Minnesota Historical Society. What seemed like a one-time summer volunteer opportunity, to learn more about Minnesota, actually turned into something more valuable. The friendships Gopal has built on the farm and the enjoyment of doing some outdoor labor brought Gopal back for another season of volunteering on the farm. 

Another thing Gopal enjoys is going home and telling his 4-year-old son tales about what the animals did and what other kids said at the farm. With such fascinating stories, without a doubt, Gopal’s son believes his dad is a weekend farmer. 


137 Boxes and 13,000 Envelopes

By: Rebekah Bjork | April 19, 2019

This month State Archives volunteers completed the re-housing of 137 boxes of Ramsey County District Court criminal case files dated 1858-1930. The documents were contained in over 13,000 file envelopes, and housed in boxes. The records were received many years ago, and were difficult for our researchers use. Starting in August 2017 our volunteers removed the documents from the envelopes, unfolded the documents, and cut from the envelopes any relevant information. Each case file's documents were placed in bond folder, and then several bond folders were housed in an archival quality folder. The old boxes were discarded with the documents then housed in our boxes.  

Now that the Ramsey County District Court criminal case files are unfolded and housed in archival quality folders their preservation is prolonged. And researchers can now easily use the documents without opening a dirty envelope and unfolding the documents to view. The unfolding and unfolding of the documents eventually would damage even the high quality paper documents. Early in the project our volunteers found 3D objects like wallets, coins, bullets and more that were evidence in the criminal cases. The practice of including evidence in the case files was eventually discontinued, and only a few 3D objects were found.

The case files are accessed using a name index that was created by the court at the time the case files were created. We have two groups of State Archives volunteers. The first group of 8-10 volunteers work two mornings a month. The other group of 10 volunteers are from the Women's Organization of the Minnesota Historical Society (WOMNHS) and work one morning a month. We're very grateful to our volunteers as they help us better preserve and provide improved access to the collections in the State Archives. Next project? A mere 92 boxes of Fergus Falls State Hospital commitment papers dated 1890-1967 which are tri-folded in envelopes. Stay tuned for updates!

Our Volunteers are Stars

By: Rebekah Bjork | April 19, 2019

Earlier last week, a group of 3M employees from their Native American network volunteered their time for MNHS. They put together 2,000 bandolier bags in just 30 minutes! These bags will be mailed out to teachers across the country.

They also painted lettering on 70 stars that will be used for the First Avenue Exhibit opening. The Women's Organization of MNHS finished painting the stars yesterday! One of our long-time volunteers, Skip, cut and whitewashed the stars himself.

Thank you, 3M employees and Skip!

History Rabbit Hole

By: Rebekah Bjork | April 10, 2019

MNopedia volunteers and interns have published fifteen articles so far this fiscal year, with a several more in the works!

The efforts of our MNopedia volunteers have helped us reach the following milestones:

  • October 2018: the MNopedia website hit the 1 millionth unique user mark
  • February 2019: MNopedia reached not only 3 million page views but also more than 1.5 million unique sessions on our website
  • MNopedia will be able to launch Phase I of the Minnesota Place Names project as scheduled by the end of June, then it will be on to Phase II: Lakes, Rivers, and Streams.

So, for the countless trips they took down the History Rabbit Hole and their many valued contributions to MNopedia . . . Thank you, MNopedia volunteers and interns!

MLK Weekend

By: Rebekah Bjork | January 28, 2019

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Special Events team helped make the MLK Weekend activities at the Minnesota History Center a success.

6 volunteers assisted with registration, ushering, wayfinding, snack rooms, and service projects for the Together We Sing Festival on Saturday, January 19.

Thank you, volunteers, for helping make the event a success!

362 Days a Year

By: Rebekah Bjork | January 17, 2019

The passion and energy of MNHS volunteers and interns is like no other, and they consistently do their best work to accomplish and support the mission of MNHS. In the last year, volunteers and interns contributed 53,400 hours to the work of MNHS. MNHS volunteers contribute their time and talents 362 days a year, typically only taking off three major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

In the last year, Minnesota Historical Society volunteers and interns surpassed an incredible milestone of 1 million hours since 1992. During that time, some volunteers have even served more than 25 years!

At the Volunteer & Intern Recognition Event in November 2018, volunteers and interns were recognized for their work, talents, and years of service. Volunteers and interns filled the 3M Auditorium to hear Phyllis Goff, Immediate Past President of the Executive Council, and Kent Whitworth, Director & Chief Executive Officer, speak.

Afterwards, volunteers and interns were able to enjoy the company of one another, as well as MNHS staff and members of the MNHS Executive Leadership Team and MNHS employees through Collections Tours, a discussion about the upcoming exhibit First Avenue, led by MNHS staff member Erin Cole, and a social hour.

Thanks to all who made this a successful event, and thanks to MNHS volunteers and interns for your contributions, commitments, and efforts to live out the mission and values of MNHS.

Volunteer Data Squad Crushes Survey Goal

By: Rebekah Bjork | January 17, 2019

Somalis + MN Intercept Survey volunteers, or the “Data Squad,” were busy this fall collecting data from Minnesota History Center visitors. Volunteers easily reached the goal of 383 responses, and continued to exceed that goal by collecting 404 responses total!

Volunteers also provided valuable feedback about the exhibit and to enhance visitors’ experiences. A couple of volunteers also brainstormed with MNHS Strategic Communications staff to develop posters to advertise the exhibit in local communities!

Staff supervisor Kate Roberts said “I've said it many times--we couldn't conduct our History Center surveys without our volunteers!”

61 Schools and 4,854 Students

By: Rebekah Bjork | November 19, 2018

The start of the new school year means excitement and learning for students of all ages. This year, it also marked the start of a new volunteer opportunity at Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote. A team of 18 volunteered as Field Trip Facilitators.

Volunteers greeted and welcomed student groups, answered questions, provided a hands-on experience for students, helped extend the content of the fort by assimilating both general history about Fort Snelling and Bdote, and provided directional assistance and daily program information! Volunteer field trip facilitators served a total of 61 schools with 4,854 students and their 842 adults.

Staff supervisor, Tom Lalim, stated “We couldn't have done the program without the help of our volunteers this fall. They did such a great job of directing people and answering visitors questions, were an integral part of our team, and ensured that our students and teachers had a wonderful experience. I'm so grateful to the volunteers for how flexible they were since we were trying out our new school tour program this year.”