The house at 1500 N. Delaware St. in Indianapolis—a Georgian Revival house once owned by famous Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson—is now the home of Indiana Humanities. At this nonprofit state council where I intern, my work area is a long wooden desk on the second floor; my computer sits an intimate distance of just a few steps in any direction from the offices of nine other staff members or interns. Really, however, my work area is all over Indiana, because we are in the unique business of encouraging Hoosiers to think, read, and talk.
My job, specifically, is as the grants and programs intern. I read past grants, interview grant recipients, and write stories about successful initiatives throughout the state. I also review grant applications with my bosses, enter grant information into our database, and learn about the ins and outs of grant-making—from the initial federal funds that the National Endowment for the Humanities gives us (among other incredible funders like the Lilly Endowment) to the 50 to 60 annual events that occur in the small towns of Indiana as the result of those funds.
I have discovered the possibility for massive change that comes with many modest projects. I am witnessing a civic public at its best. Some of the projects that I most enjoy include scholars uncovering forgotten history about Indiana and sharing it with the public. Other exciting initiatives entailed human and social rights: learning about the Underground Railroad in Indiana, exploring the history of lesbianism in Hoosier past, or learning about men in the steel mills of Northwest Indiana who took shift breaks to rehearse with their bands or choirs.
Reviewing projects and applications has offered me a new perspective on what makes a strong application and how to create a strong project from scratch, which will surely help me as I apply to career prospects in the next year. I also feel energized to see the beginnings of projects, to imagine their potential, and I will certainly keep tabs on them in subsequent years to see how they develop.
We at Indiana Humanities do not just empower others, however. As a programs intern, I have been able to bring the vision of my coworkers to life. I plan for and then staff events like our Historic Bar Crawl, staff booths at events like IndyVolved (the Indianapolis nonprofit event fair; picture below) or Treasure Hunt (an Indiana Landmarks event), help with the Next Indiana Campfires (where Indiana Humanities hosts a hike in the woods before participants read excerpts from good books and eat good food around a campfire), and help with field trips to the Link Observatory or the Indianapolis Zoo.
I also collaborate with a staff that empowers me to think of my own events (which are still under wraps). Interning at Indiana Humanities allows me to explore the fertile boundary of the public humanities field and to gain valuable experiences creating an event when it is still just an idea, including details like writing a press release. I am so grateful to Lilly Endowment, Inc., particularly, for making this experience a financial possibility. As someone who aspires to become a professor, these lessons will help me to continue bringing grant work and event planning to the academy.
Whether helping with grants or programs, one of the greatest lessons this staff has taught me is how to laugh as I go. Studying in college tended to quiet my personality and sense of humor, and it made fun and work seem mutually exclusive at times. Now I wake up every morning excited to spend time in conversation with people. I hope to take that back to school with me. We have a lot of fun, and that actually helps with productivity.
For example, after the bar crawl, the staff returned to 416 Wabash Ave. in Indianapolis. Everyone went out onto the dance floor, and we danced to some of our favorite 70s music—ABBA included. It was fun for me because I felt a sense of community, solidarity, and accomplishment with these people that I had not felt with a group of people in a long time. Part of those feelings came from both succeeding and failing with them: when we were blown away with a number of incredibly competent and tactful volunteers, when we bought poster boards that were the wrong length and we had to cut out and glue way too much cardboard together to make it work; when we finished the first day with a sno-cone truck, and everybody came together to dance and enjoy one another’s company.
Just as in those instances, interning at Indiana Humanities has taught me more about the value of soft skills like listening, empathy, and collaboration. As a student at an all-male liberal arts school that focuses on teaching these skills, I know that young men in society are not unknown for lacking them at times. These summer experiences have suggested to me the valuable learning opportunities that await men in the future of this internship. I hope that this connection between Wabash College and Indiana Humanities continues for that reason.
Luke Doughty is a Hoosier studying English Literature and Classics at Wabash College, where he’ll be starting his senior year this fall. He plans to attend graduate school for English.