Trying Everything: Exploring the Humanities World as a Summer Intern

July 27, 2023
Maia Schwallie working in the PA Humanities office and from her apartment at Haverford College.

By Maia Schwallie

During my first couple of weeks as a summer intern at PA Humanities, I spent a lot of time absorbing the complexities of the humanities world. As I slowly learned the ropes, my coworkers shared with me that when they first started working at PA Humanities, it took time to truly understand the intricacies of the organization’s work. 

PA Humanities is home to an impressive array of programs, ideas, and departments, and it is just one small portion of a network of many other humanities councils and organizations. PA Humanities is such an impactful organization, and the depths of the work it accomplishes on an internal and external level take time to fully understand.  

I decided that I would embrace the feeling of absorption, and try my best to take in everything I could about this organization and the role it plays in the Pennsylvania cultural sector. I wanted to learn everything I could, and the flexible internship program at PA Humanities allowed me to do so. 

An Instagram post promoting the We Are Here podcast, one of many Instagram posts created by Schwallie.

Since PA Humanities encouraged me to approach the internship in an open-minded and exploratory manner, I was able to sample a bit of every department. I spent most of my time with the communications team, where I created social media content, wrote articles, and helped develop a new podcast about the constitution and its impacts today, amongst other smaller projects.   

With the Development staff, I embarked on an archival research project. In preparation for PA Humanities’ 50th anniversary, I scoured physical and digital archives to create a masterlist of all past PA Humanities board members from 1980 to 2023. This list will be used to contact board members so they can get involved with our 50th celebration. While I didn’t think spreadsheets would play such a vital role in the humanities, finishing the masterlist was one of the most satisfying moments of my internship.

A haiku by 4th grader Lila W., featured at the Carroll Park Rain Poetry unveiling event.

I also aided my Programs coworkers with a few PA Humanities programs, such as the Mandela Washington Fellows Exchange in Chester and Rain Poetry. Rain Poetry is a program that shares the art of haiku with young students, ultimately displaying haikus written by kids on the ground in public spaces. While some haiku are visible 24/7, others are installed using magic paint that is only visible when wet. 

As a poet myself, the Rain Poetry project was especially meaningful to me, and I loved helping out with the unveiling event in Carroll Park, as well as participating in some behind the scenes research and planning for future Rain Poetry projects.

Some of the work I have accomplished during my time at PA Humanities really stands out to me. Writing a story about how a Teen Reading Lounge location pushed back against censorship and book banning, for example, was an especially exciting project for me. I loved speaking with the librarian who facilitated the Teen Reading Lounge location and hearing from her teens about how impactful the program has been for them. Storytelling is a skill and tool that I am very passionate about, and I feel grateful that I got to tell their story on the PA Humanities blog. 

Schwallie posing with PA Humanities coworker Jared Valdez and Mandela Fellow Ida Padikuor Na-Tei. Photo by Greg Irvin.

Another moment from my internship that stays with me is seeing the Mandela Washington Fellows Exchange come to fruition. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders provides impressive innovators from Sub Saharan Africa a trip to U.S. higher education institutions for academic and leadership training. The Fellows that participated in the exchange in Chester are being hosted by Lehigh University, one of 28 American institutions hosting Fellows this Summer. The exchange was an extension of the Chester Made initiative, a humanities-based project that supports arts and culture in Chester. 

I was lucky enough to play a role in the Mandela Fellows event from start to finish. After visiting Chester multiple times, planning the event with my coworkers and Chester artists, finalizing the agenda, and sending out invitations, I drove to Chester on July 20th and watched the event unfold in a lively and joyful manner. 

Mandela Fellows posing in front of a Nelson Mandela mural painted by Chester artist Devon Walls. Photo by Greg Irvin.

During the exchange, the Fellows spoke with artists from Chester to learn about how art and creativity drives economic and community development in their town. The Fellows discussed their work and aspirations with members of the Chester community, participated in a collaborative art project, and toured multiple art studios and cultural spaces across Chester. The event was imbued with pride and appreciation, as the Fellows and Chester artists exchanged their experiences as community leaders. 

Though these projects stand out to me partly because of the time and effort I put into them, I also enjoyed many of the smaller tasks I worked on during my time at PA Humanities. My Excel skills have definitely improved (a shocking development for an English major), I can use Canva like a pro, and my morning commute on the Market Frankford Line has felt like a successful first foray into “adulting.” 

Schwallie’s notes, complete with reminders, chicken scratch, and crossed off to-do lists.

My internship has given me tools I can take with me wherever I may go in the future, and I am so thankful that I was able to explore so many aspects of PA Humanities and the cultural sector it operates within. Whether I’m writing community-driven poetry, working in a library, or teaching at a university, I’m sure my future career will intersect with PA Humanities’ mission.  

I came to this internship as a lover of the humanities—as someone who does not go a day without engaging with poetry, art, philosophy, or music. I am leaving this internship as someone who admires the humanities world and appreciates the people and organizations who bring the humanities to communities across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.

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