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English major 'gains confidence in skills' through Smithsonian internship

Katie Cunningham stands wearing a backpack and holding a book. She poses and smiles.Katie Cunningham, '16, always knew she wanted to study English in college, but she was surprised to feel like Whitworth's English department "chose her."

"The students and professors are so welcoming," Cunningham says. "I immediately felt like I was part of the department. I remember my first Westminster Round event, the Christmas party. While I was there, everyone introduced themselves and remembered me afterwards. After that, I knew I had found a community of people like me, and that they were excited to have me, too. I've always felt at home and valued in the department."

Cunningham is now the president of Westminster Round, Whitworth's student-run English club.

Beyond campus, Cunningham had the opportunity to gain real-world experience during an internship at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, in Washington, D.C., during Jan Term 2015. Inspired by her interest in Asian-American identity and culture, the center asked Cunningham to create a "multimedia storytelling project" about Asian-American identity for the Smithsonian's larger Our American Journey project. Cunningham also wrote a related article, "Defining Ourselves: Multiracial Identity for Modern-Day Asian Americans," which was published on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's website. To read the article, click on Defining Ourselves.

"This experience showed me how passionate I am about individual stories and personal identity," Cunningham says. "I spent eight hours a day in the office working on this project, and yet when I went home, I still wanted to research the topic. In the end, I was able to take all of the very different stories and put them together in a coherent, individual and interesting narrative."

The Smithsonian atmosphere was just as appealing to Cunningham as the content she explored.

"It was great to see a workplace that prioritized cultural appreciation, and where people took so much joy from each other and their work," she says. "People say office jobs are boring and unfulfilling, but the Smithsonian was an office environment that was anything but boring."

The biggest challenge Cunningham faced during the internship was navigating the freedom she was awarded.

"I'm grateful this internship gave me the opportunity to explore that freedom and realize I can adapt really well to it," she says. "I definitely gained a lot of confidence in my skills from this internship."

After graduating from Whitworth, Cunningham plans to utilize those skills as either an English teacher or an editor.