Nadia Mushib spent the bulk of her summer in awe as she gently coaxed tourists visiting Ellis Island to share their own or their family’s powerful memories of immigrating to America.
“It was so incredibly moving because, for many of these people, it was the first time they were being asked to even think about that part of their lives—what they left behind and their first years here,” said Nadia, a senior in St. John’s University’s five-year, B.A./M.A. program in History.
Nadia was one of four students selected for summer internships that were created as part of a recent partnership established by St. John’s and the National Park Service (NPS). The partnership, which is focused on the NPS’s National Parks of New York Harbor (NPNH), helps students gain insight into the mission of NPS and the role the federal agency plays in the cultural life of the nation.
“The NPS is admired and modeled throughout the world,” said Kristin M. Szylvian, Ph.D., Director of the Public History program at St. John’s and Associate Professor of History and Library and Information Science.
“It is our responsibility as a University to respond to the national need to take our scholarly research to visitors and help the park service preserve and share those stories of our history,” Dr. Szylvian added. “For the students, this internship experience will hopefully instill a shared responsibility for all of us to be good stewards of our national treasures.”
As part of the collaboration, the History Department at St. John’s assists NPS with recruiting and training volunteers and interns for research and interpretive programs in metropolitan New York City. The initial phase of the five-year program involved the provision of student interns for the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and the Trails & Rails program administered by NPS and Amtrak. “These interns bring powerful perspectives to the work of the National Park Service while gaining real world experience. Engaging the public through their lenses will ensure that people will find relevance in these special places,” said Patti Reilly, Director of Education and Youth Engagement for NPNH.
Nadia and fellow intern Catherine Sheehan, who is enrolled in St. John’s new dual degree program that offers a Master of Arts in Public History and a Master of Science in Library and Information Science, assisted staff at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration with the Streets Paved with Gold project. This is a new initiative that records the immigrant stories of visitors to Ellis Island. The two interns encouraged visitors to write their memories down on paper images of a golden brick, which would then be prepared for display as part of an exhibit at the Ellis Island museum.
Two other students interned in the NPS Trails and Rails Program. Mary Kenny, a History and Criminal Justice major, and Alexander Lee, a graduate student with a concentration in Public History, devoted their internship to riding on Amtrak trains so they could engage passengers by sharing information about national parks and other historic and cultural sites located along the New York City to Washington, DC, route. The goal was to encourage passengers to use the trains as a convenient way to visit various heritage sites.
The students also worked under the supervision of NPNH staff and St. John’s faculty to research and develop new content for NPS programs. Nadia and Catherine established and streamlined a database system to archive the immigrant stories tourists had shared with them.
“The most amazing part was, we would give people the chance to reflect on their own narrative, and then they could decide, for themselves, how they wanted their story to be told—in their voice, their language, and their words,” Nadia said. “This was super exciting for us, and it’s what drew me especially to the Streets Paved with Gold project.”