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Student Interning at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

Zach Nelson USD anthropology and Spanish major Zach Nelson is interning at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy: Judith Andrews, Smithsonian)

WASHINGTON -- Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native Zach Nelson has spent the past few months in the nation’s capital interning at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in the anthropology department. He specifically works in the recovering voices program that aims to revitalize, support and document endangered indigenous languages and knowledge.

Nelson said he always knew he wanted to work for the Smithsonian after visiting and realizing it’s a place of learning and research. He has enjoyed being able to explore objects that bring back stories and knowledge from past eras.

“My favorite part of my internship thus far has been visiting the museum archives and collections center,” said Nelson. “It is so extensive and has such beautiful artifacts. I find it really rewarding when we are able to visit pieces accompanied by persons that have a cultural connection or ancestral tie to the artifacts.”

Nelson’s mentor at the Smithsonian, Judith Andrews, program assistant for recovering voices, has helped Nelson grow through her knowledge of cultural sensitivity and the day-to-day operation of the Smithsonian from a federal level.

He’s currently working with one of his favorite pieces, a 19th century Tsimshian totem pole from the Pacific Northwest. Nelson said he enjoys learning about the culture of the totem pole that extends up a staircase.

“I am working on data management for one of our group visits from British Columbia and find it really interesting to listen and read their stories, history and knowledge of (the Tsimshian totem pole),” said Nelson. “I really grew to admire the artistic convention and skill needed to create these huge pieces, they are able to convey a lot of information about cultural legends, stories and history.”

Nelson will graduate from USD this spring with his bachelor of arts in anthropology and Spanish with a minor in art. His internship ends at the end of May, but he plans to apply for entry level positions and research fellowships with the Smithsonian or to other full-time positions in the Washington area.


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News