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Student Internships at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center

The Department of History is partnering with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center to provide our students with an intellectually robust internship program in African American and public history. The Beck Cultural Exchange Center is the primary regional repository for African American history and culture in Knoxville.

We launched the internship program last year, with support from the university’s Division of Diversity and Engagement. This summer, the department funded a graduate internship, directed by Dr. Brandon Winford, and is currently funding an undergraduate internship, directed by Dr. Patricia Rutenberg.  Beck interns have the opportunity to work closely with the Rev. Renee Kesler, president of the Center.

In addition to these paid internships, the department currently offers a one-semester unpaid internship at the Beck Center in conjunction with an advanced course in public history, “The City as History: Introduction to Public History,” taught by Dr. Rutenberg. Kate Hansen, a recent UTK History graduate and recipient of the Bryan-Groce Public History Award, held two internships at the Beck during the pandemic year, 2020-21. “The Beck Center will always need as much help as people can provide,” she says. ‘I found this to be a fulfilling and educational internship.” Kate particularly appreciated learning how to categorize and safely store archival materials.

“The Beck Cultural Exchange Center appreciates the work of all interns who have come through our doors,” the Rev. Kesler explains. “Though they may not have much practical experience before they come to Beck, their minds are brimming with bright ideas and new information passed from qualified professors. We appreciate the ideas, creativity, and passion interns bring into the workplace.”

Ms. Kesler noted that interns provided through the University of Tennessee’s Public History intern program are unique: “These are students who chose to come to the Beck Cultural Exchange Center because of their background and research interests. It is always a special experience when a student specifically seeks out an opportunity to work with Beck. Their passion and interest show in their exceptional work.”

Stella Takvoryan, a history minor, is currently a paid intern at the Beck, through funding by the History Department. She is examining and cataloging artifacts: photos, letters, and ephemera collected from the ancestral home of the Delaney family, which will become the Delaney Museum at Beck, devoted to the early lives of the Knoxville artists Beauford Delaney and Joseph Delaney. She is sorting these artifacts and making the first complete inventory. 

This internship program enriches students’ understanding of Black history, strengthens the History Department’s collaboration with the Beck Cultural Center and our growing research and teaching concentration on African-American history, and gives UT’s students a valuable chance to develop new skills that will serve them well after graduation.

As Ms. Kesler noted: “The work to preserve Black history and culture doesn’t end as an internship comes to a close–this is work which passionate interns will continue to choose in their future opportunities. Not only does their work strengthen Beck, it also strengthens the field of public history as a whole.”