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Embracing Our Diversity: The 2018 I2F Internship Experience

Posted on Feb 19, 2019 by in The OFI Blog |

2019-2020 I2F applications are now open! Learn more here.

By Natali Chavez and Chris Wu, 2018-2019 I2F Cohort Members

2018-2019 I2F Cohort

The Smithsonian Institution plays a vital role in preserving, shaping and reflecting the world around us – a world of diversity and evolving attitudes. The Internship to Fellowship (I2F) Program aims to open this museum and research complex to recent college graduates of Latino and Asian descent who believe in the Smithsonian’s mission and efforts to increase diversity. In the Fall of 2018, the inaugural I2F Intern Cohort assembled from across the United States and embarked on a 15-week internship, where each intern was guided by accomplished mentors.


Smithsonian National Zoological Park I2F Intern Natali Chavez

Meet Natali Chavez

Smithsonian National Zoological Park I2F Intern
B.S. in Biology with a double minor in applied physics and chemistry, California State University Channel Islands ’18

As she worked through her undergraduate degree in biology, Natali grew to understand that studying and analyzing DNA is essential for modern advances in science to improve the understanding of the natural world. She applied to be an I2F Intern with the Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s Center for Conservation Genomics (CCG) because she wanted to conduct research on various endangered species and study them at a molecular level. Natali’s hands-on experience with endangered species’ DNA allowed her to analyze the species’ population health, gene flow, species ID, and biogeographic patterns.

Natali shares, “Working at the CCG feels like I’ve entered a master’s program. The immense introduction to genomics and hands-on experimentation has encouraged me to pursue higher education in the field of genetics.” Not only did she learn lab protocols but also learned how to prepare and maintain the machines used for each protocol. Furthermore, Natali worked with many Smithsonian experts, including her mentor Dr. Jesus Maldonado, to learn essential genetic laboratory techniques.

Outside of lab work, Natali was able to stay active in her youth outreach interests by participating in the annual Zoo Fiesta – sparking scientific curiosity in the next generation.


Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute I2F Intern Chris Wu

Meet Chris Wu

Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute I2F Intern
B.A. in Studio Art with a minor in Asian Studies, Colorado College ‘16

With academic studies in art but no prior training in conservation, the I2F program provided Chris an invaluable opportunity to learn about modern and contemporary paintings conservation at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI). Chris was quickly involved and invested in various preventive conservation processes – including condition assessments for paintings, exhibition preparations in framing, packing and shipping artwork, and learning the applications for various conservation materials and hardware.

During the internship, Chris worked with the Paintings Conservation team on preventive conservation and exhibition support projects at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian. These experiences exposed Chris to a wide range of museum professionals, including conservators, curators, registrars, project managers, exhibition designers, museum specialists and fabricators.

Chris admired the mission of the I2F program – designed to promote the diversity and inclusion of Asian Pacific Americans and Latino Americans in the fields of museum studies and support. Chris shares that, “it has meant a lot to be valued and welcomed by the dedicated Smithsonian professionals whose work and research supports the arts in Washington, D.C. and beyond.” With stronger interest in museum exhibitions and a growing understanding of conservation standards, Chris feels confident in pursuing more opportunities at the Smithsonian.

I2F Interns explore the National Air and Space Museum

Each of the interns faced unique challenges of acclimating to new environments but they had no difficulty reminding themselves that they were there for each other; they believed in the mission of the program; and they belonged. From September to December 2018, the beat of the I2F drum remained steady and pushed the interns to keep learning and moving forward.

The internship experience and group morale was greatly enhanced by the I2F programming that scheduled intimate meetings and tours with curators, scientists, museum specialists, exhibit designers, and program managers from various Smithsonian units. The I2F interns were constantly expanding their minds through unique opportunities, like visiting the largest whale bone collection in the world, providing feedback on exhibit design to a Curator of Space History, or peering through different curatorial lenses and material cultures to better understand our diverse American story.

Natali, Chris, and the rest of the I2F Intern cohort concluded their internships in December 2018 and have now entered the second phase of the two-tiered program. As I2F Fellows, the cohort members are conducting independent research in a topic of their choice and deepening their understanding of the Smithsonian and the world around them.

Upcoming posts on the I2F research projects are on their way. Please stay tuned and thank you for reading.

– Natali & Chris out

I2F Interns explore the monuments around the Tidal Basin

I2F Internships receive Federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.