From History Major to Future Curator

March 12, 2008

By Jo-Ann Johnston
SLU Staff Writer

Twice a week, junior Ciara Teegarden goes to work with professionals who are preserving history and advancing the cause of human rights.

From History Major to Future Curator That’s the mission of the Florida Holocaust Museum, the fourth-largest institution of its kind in the United States. Holocaust museums honor the memories of lives lost, and educate the public about ways citizens can prevent more genocides.

Ciara (pronounced KEY-ra) is the first Saint Leo University student placed in an academic internship at the museum, and she has grown passionate about the work. “I absolutely love it, and every day gets better.' The history and international relations major began working at the Holocaust Museum at the start of spring semester.

Teegarden is surprised at how much she has already learned about the intricacies of preservation. “There are certain things that have to be done the right way,' she says, especially when it comes to labeling and storing artifacts that have been donated to the museum. Very few objects can be on display at any one time because of space limitations, explains Erin Stagner, museum registrar. That means artifacts (typically donated by surviving family members) have to be stored away from the display floors, but cataloged and inventoried so that they can always be located and retrieved for displays as needed. Any item that is mislabeled or shelved incorrectly could literally be lost for museum purposes.

Teegarden has discovered she has a talent for such archiving and organizational duties, and is committed to accuracy. On any given shift, she might log photographs from the World War II Holocaust into the archive. She has also inventoried books and items of clothing. One recent day she carefully hand-stitched a small identification tag into a red velvet Torah mantle (a protective cloak made for a synagogue’s Torah scrolls) originally from early 20th-century Europe.

Another recent project was particularly fascinating and rewarding, Teegarden says. She inventoried nearly 300 pieces of artwork: small, painted wood carvings that were based on published photographs the artist discovered of children and families. The people in the photographs were living in Europe at the time of the Holocaust - before they were imprisoned in concentration camps. The artist, Dr. Herbert Savel, recreated the images in his carvings, but with added elements, typically including halos above the heads of the Holocaust victims. Of the 300 or so works on permanent loan to the museum, about 85 have been gathered into an exhibit entitled “Kaddish in Wood,' a name that refers to a prayer for the dead. Teegarden has been able to create a PowerPoint presentation linking the photos with the carvings they inspired.

Teegarden also enjoys the opportunities of seeing other exhibits on display at the museum. Her spring internship coincides with a well-publicized exhibit exploring the late Pope John Paul II’s contributions to interfaith relations between Catholics and Jews, called “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.'

These experiences have provided Teegarden with valuable career insights. “Before the internship, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my history degree. Now I know I would enjoy working in a museum, probably as a curator. Before, I didn’t have any idea. Now, I have a career path.'

Teegarden has also come to realize that museums can be valuable settings for elementary- and secondary-school teaching exercises. That path might also be appealing, she says, even though she has decided traditional classroom teaching is not for her.

The junior’s advisors on campus, history Prof. Heather Parker, and internship coordinator Benet Bondi, both hope to see more Saint Leo students pursue the rich academic internship opportunities the university and cooperating workplaces provide.

Teegarden has set a new goal of completing another museum internship during her undergraduate career. After another semester of academic work, she and Prof. Parker are hoping to locate a final, full-time semester internship opportunity in New York or Washington, D.C.

For more information on career internships in general, contact
For more information on Saint Leo’s history major and history internships, contact
For more information on this story, contact SLU Staff writer Jo-Ann Johnston at