Matthew Wolff shares his experiences from his summer internship at the Altoona Railroader’s Memorial Museum.
Matthew Wolff is a senior from Ridgway, Pennsylvania, majoring in history with a minor in political science. He interned over the summer at the Altoona Railroader’s Memorial Museum.
Penn State Altoona history major Matthew Wolff
Credit: Provided - Matthew Wolff
I have always had an interest in the railroads, and I saw the opportunity to intern at the museum as a perfect way to combine my love of history and the rail industry.
I was able to do a mixture of everything at the museum. Some days I worked in the gift shop and others I worked with the director of digital outreach on social media.
I also worked as a guide, giving tours of the Roundhouse where rolling stock is kept, things like our K4 locomotive and freight and passenger cars. I explained what the items were and engaged the public in conversation about the things in the facility. Inside the museum, I’d give an overview of what people would see as they walked through.
My favorite thing to do was work in the archive room where I got to help organize and catalog some of the museum artifacts. I like to consider myself a more hands-on learning guy, and being able to touch historical artifacts, learning about them while holding them in my hands, was so unique. I handled blueprints of all different kinds and worked with some calendars that date back to the 1920s. One other cool thing was a carafe that held hot or cold liquid that would be on a passenger train car.
Something else I did as part of my internship was present at a History After Hours event at the museum. I talked about the Underground Railroad and how music played a role in that, and then I transitioned into all the different cultures that were in Altoona and the music they brought to the area. It was a tough topic to research, but that’s exactly what historians do, dig to find the material. And the public seemed to really like it.
The railroad has been an interest of mine for a while, and I even did my senior project back in high school on it, so I loved getting to learn about the history of it here in the Altoona area. It was such a perfect fit for me as an internship, and I’ve actually been hired on as an employee. Although I am in the gift shop sometimes, I mostly work as a tour guide of the Roundhouse. I’m still really enjoying that.
I am scheduled to graduate in May, and I’m looking at my options for next steps. That’s the cool thing about doing an internship. It gives you an opportunity to talk to different people in the field that you're interested in and make connections.
But it also allows you to get a taste of the different areas of your field you can go into. You can see first-hand what you do and don’t like and narrow down where you see yourself. In my case, being able to work in the archive room of the museum opened my eyes to something that I never considered before. That’s pretty exciting for me.
To learn more about history internships, contact Doug Page, teaching professor of history and history program coordinator, at [email protected].