From the very beginning, I always had trouble believing I was a creative person. I was the child who always opted to draw stick figures when asked to draw a family portrait. Not until I reached college did I realize that being creative was essential to becoming a great history major and an exceptional historian. In other words, I knew that my creativity skills needed work and was determined to challenge myself. I no longer wanted to be the person who always used the excuse growing up, “I do not know how to be creative.”
As I pulled up to my new apartment in the nation’s capital in January to start American University’s Washington Semester program, I was unsure of what the next four months would hold, but I began to set goals in my head. One was to work on my creativity while I was interning and going to school. After a few weeks at the National History Center, I quickly realized that this history internship was giving me the perfect opportunity to work on and test the skills I wanted to develop.
The center’s director, Dane Kennedy, and assistant director, Amanda Moniz, assigned me the task of launching a new project: Historians on the Hill. The program’s aim is to identify congressional staffers who hold history degrees and forge contacts with those who might offer logistical and other assistance on our Congressional Briefings program.
Historians on the Hill has helped me step out of my comfort zone in more ways than one. From the very first week of my internship, I had to start exercising my creativity. I designed a survey to gather the information the center was interested in. Then, I had to figure out how to encourage staffers to open the e-mails I sent. A professor once told me that a busy person will only respond to a message if you e-mail him three times. Therefore, I knew I had to plan strategic mailings to get congressional staffers to take the time to answer my seven-question survey. The key, I realized, is to be organized and persistent, as well as specific and to the point in my writing. Now, as the survey responses come rolling in, I am actively sifting, organizing, and analyzing the results, and I have been able to improve upon my Microsoft Excel skills in the process. Thus, by working on this project, I have unintentionally enhanced my communication, computer, and technical skills—all highly valuable skills that are essential in our society today.
I have come a long way from that stick-figure-drawing girl. You are never too old to learn a new skill or work on an old one, and interning at the National History Center for Historians on the Hill has taught me that being creative simply has to do with opening your mind to knowledge. Once you do that, your creativity vessels immediately begin to run with never-ending ideas. As I continue to work on this project for the remainder of my time at the center, I proudly describe myself now as a creative person. However, this does not mean I am going to stop drawing stick figures anytime soon.
Emily Feeney is a junior from Waltham, Massachusetts, who attends Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. She is a history major who spent her spring semester in Washington, DC, studying at American University and participating in the International Law and Organizations Program. Throughout the last four months Emily interned at the National History Center and worked closely on the center’s Historians on the Hill project.
This post first appeared on AHA Today.
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