Heard Museum internship helps ASU Native American students thrive

An innovative partnership between Arizona State University and the Heard Museum in Phoenix is giving Native American students the opportunity to gain professional experience before they graduate by interning at the museum.

ASU graduate student Mahalia Newmark is one of three students selected for the internship this spring. She has spent at least 10 hours a week planning events, learning about educational program development and delivery, and networking as part of her internship.

“I’ve always known I’ve had a love and passion for the arts and culture and education, and when this internship came up it was the perfect opportunity for me,” said Newmark, who is pursuing a master’s in public administration with a concentration in American Indian studies.

The Heard Museum Guild, the volunteer wing of the Heard Museum, partnered with ASU’s American Indian Student Support Services on creating these paid internships to help retain Native American students at ASU and give them hands-on experience in a project-based environment at the museum.  

Newmark, a citizen of Tulita Dene (First Nation), is working as the education and public program intern. After graduation, her dream job is to work at a Native cultural institution like the Heard Museum that is dedicated to Native American arts and cultures.

“I love it,” Newmark said. “I love the opportunity to be a part of a place in Phoenix that has supported Native people for so long and that really supports Native artists and students and is really committing to conveying the culture in a sensitive and appropriate way.”

It is hoped that the pilot internship program this semester is the first of many, according to Laura Gonzales-Macias, assistant director of ASU’s American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS).

“This partnership is aligned with what with AISSS stands for and the vision that American Indian students graduate to become contributors to themselves, their family and their community,” Gonzales-Macias said. “The combination of pay and professional development and learning that we can provide our students goes to the value of ultimately contributing to their families.”

Truman Peyote, an ASU graduate student majoring in English literature with an emphasis in American Indian writing, is the curatorial and collections intern at the Heard Museum.

Before the internship, Peyote, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, already had a deep interest in the American Indian culture and volunteering in a space that would allow him to work hands-on with exhibits.

“The ability to see American Indian people that span generations and age and culture and tribes come together as if they are just family, and that’s pretty unique and crazy and that’s really personal for me,” Peyote said.

Peyote said he feels the responsibility as one of the pilot students in this partnership to excel in his work and represent ASU and AISSS to the best of his abilities.

“I would hope that the experience is going to be so great on both ends of the spectrum that I hope the Heard Museum will be super impressed by me and others and I know that I am already thinking how great it is, and maybe if those two things are in convergence then we can do it again,” Peyote said.

In addition to the paid-internship aspect of the program, the students participating may also earn class credit towards their respective degrees.

ASU senior Isaiah Nelson, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, is earning three credits for his internship.

Nelson, the marketing and public relations intern for the museum, is majoring in museum studies and earning a minor in American Indian studies.

Nelson said the partnership between ASU’s AISSS and the Heard Museum is such a positive because of the weight the name of the Heard Museum holds in the community.

“Going to ASU and especially going to the downtown campus, when I talk to ASU professors and mention the Heard Museum, their eyes light up and they say, ‘Wow that’s such a good museum and opportunity,’ ” Nelson said.

Written by Samantha Pell, ASU News