Sorting Through History
Most people travel to see national landmarks, paintings and statues. For Bethany Weinzierl '11, Long Prairie, Minn., hanging out with national treasures was just daily routine at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
"Not many people can say they do that at work," Weinzierl says.
Weinzierl's proactive approach and high-caliber work ethic landed her a prestigious internship at the nation's most meticulous record keeper, says Dr. Sonja Wentling, mentor, friend and associate professor of history.
"Usually there is a waiting list," Wentling explains. "Bethany was very deserving and also one of the lucky ones."
The National Archives houses nearly 15 billion federal documents, including presidential proclamations, census records, federal regulations and, most recently, an archive of every tweet posted on the social networking site Twitter.
Weinzierl, a history and organizational communication major, secured the internship as part of the Lutheran College Washington Semester, a program that offers academic credit while living, working and studying in Washington. She found her niche in the Archives' education department where she conducted primary research for upcoming projects, wrote lesson plans, developed curriculum and even designed a binder for an exhibit on the Civil War.
"I think it's safe to say that project took up most of my time," Weinzierl says. "There were a few hundred documents to go through."
Some of her most memorable moments took place in the ReSource Room, a hands-on area. This room houses copies of the country's most famous documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Louisiana Purchase.
One weekend, a 91-year-old World War II veteran came in with his family. After helping them to retrieve his personal records, Weinzierl took the time to listen to living history in a few of his war stories.
"They were wonderful to listen to," she says. "I wish that others would take the time to listen. These tales are a dying art."
Another aspect of Weinzierl's internship was helping out in the Constitution in Action Lab, a workshop that teaches students about the importance of the Constitution through mock press conferences and readings.
"Not only are students learning and presenting their findings, but they are also getting an authentic experience of what it's really like to do research at the Archives," Weinzierl says.
Though much of her work consisted of handling, reviewing and sorting old documents, Weinzierl says her time in Washington helped her understand the rights and responsibilities of being an American citizen. Mere blocks from Capitol Hill, Weinzierl experienced protests, rallies and even the historic passing of President Obama's health care reform.
At home, friends and family followed Weinzierl's adventures via a blog where she documented busy days and new experiences. For Wentling, Weinzierl's experiences illustrate the college's mission of global engagement and vocation in action.
"Aside from the fact that she applied and improved the skills she acquired at Concordia, Bethany serves as an excellent ambassador of Concordia's history department and its focus on transferable skills of researching, writing, and presenting historical topics,"
Despite all the responsibility, Weinzierl says the experience was enjoyable - and that she honed skills necessary for future success.
"I came back with priceless experience and professional networking," says Weinzierl. "A semester in D.C. is a great way to put some of your knowledge to work."