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Museum internship makes a big impact on Mary Pratt

Erskine College senior Mary Pratt, a double major in Bible and history, came to Due West from the small South Carolina town of Alcolu. “There are about 400 people there,” she says of her hometown, “and I am certain that I am related to half of them.”

Studying at a small Christian college in a small town has been a good fit for her. At Erskine, she has served as a Resident Assistant, an Admissions Ambassador, a Write Here Center editor, and a Supplemental Instructor. She has been president of the Student Christian Association for the past two years. Now in her final year on campus, she says she has “loved every second of it.”

This year, she completed a summer internship in Washington, D.C., living for a time in a metropolitan area larger than her hometown, her college town, and several surrounding towns and cities combined.

Her big-city experience was unforgettable. “I will tell stories for the rest of my life about this past summer,” she says.

Getting there

Pratt’s path to an internship at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) began in 2017 when she first heard about the museum, which opened in November that year. “I think it may have been through an Instagram advertisement,” she says.

Her response probably tops that of anyone else who saw the ad.

“I immediately made a PowerPoint presentation,” she recalls, “to persuade my parents to let me go visit for my 18th birthday that December.”

Pratt went to D.C., accompanied by her mother, a good friend, and her friend’s mother. “So I visited when the museum was just a month old. I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Impressed by the museum’s galleries, which feature Bibles and Bible-related artifacts, Pratt noted “the passion for educating people about the Bible behind it all.”

After just one visit, she felt that the Museum of the Bible “was something I wanted to be a part of somehow.” She subscribed to the museum’s emails, followed the organization on social media, and discovered the museum’s internship program during her sophomore year.

The internship application was due March 13, 2020, “the day the world turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic,” she remembers. “I decided to try applying again last year. I actually did not tell my parents because I didn’t think I would get the internship. I was wrong.”

Since the internship was unpaid, Pratt raised money to cover living expenses. “I was overwhelmed by the support of so many faculty and staff members from Erskine, family members, and friends who donated to make this internship possible for me,” she says.

Erskine alumni in D.C. posted her need for housing on their church’s online forum. The information was passed around other church forums, and a family offered her free housing for the summer. “They were wonderful! They drove me to the museum when the summer heat became too much for walking to the Metro each day.”

Mentoring here and there

Following an interview via Teams, she was “thrilled” to be selected for a summer 2021 Museum Education Internship at the Museum of the Bible and grateful that Erskine had prepared her well for it.

Referring to the mentoring she has received at Erskine, she praises especially Assistant Professor of History Dr. Alessandra Brivio and Younts Professor of Bible and Religion Dr. Bill Evans, advisors who have “taken special interest in who I am as a person.”

“They have taught me so much in the classroom and outside the classroom, too. Both have been incredibly influential in my life. Both have consistently pointed me back to Christ and glory,” she says, adding that all her professors “have shaped me and assisted me.”

Thanks to the teaching and mentoring she received, “I was able to carry with me to the museum a wealth of knowledge about the Bible, theology, and history,” she says.

She also found mentors at the Museum of the Bible. “I grew strong connections with the director of education, curators, and docents,” she says. “Everyone there took the time to get to know me and learn about who I was and where I was from. I loved telling them about my tiny hometown and my tiny college that both mean so much to me.”

Learning on the job

Pratt’s internship duties dovetailed with both her Bible and history studies.

As a Bible and religion major, she was happy to collaborate with two other interns to create materials for an “education cart” for school-aged visitors (kindergarten through high school). “We would research, brainstorm, and create activities that were historically accurate and promoted exhibitions and artifacts in the museum,” she says. “When we were not researching and making materials, we were at the cart engaging with guests and making their MOTB experience the best possible.”

As a history major, Pratt was delighted to be working at MOTB when a Magna Carta exhibit opened during the week of Independence Day. “The reason it was at the Museum of the Bible was because of many references made to the Bible in the Magna Carta,” she says. “This exhibition contained the Magna Carta and the King’s Writ. This was the first time these two documents had been in the same place since [King John placed his seal on the Magna Carta at] Runnymede. It was exciting for a history nerd like me.”

The realization that she was truly spending the summer in Washington, D.C., hit home one day when she was working at the “Education Station” in the museum, helping a child with an activity. The child’s father and a museum docent were conversing off to one side. The docent informed Pratt that the father was Tom Cotton, a senator from Arkansas.

“It was so crazy to have an interaction with a senator like that,” she says. “I had forgotten the possibility of it while living in D.C. until that moment.”

While working at MOTB, Pratt was able to view the Julia Evelina Smith Bible, which was gratifying for her both as a Bible major and a history major. “Julia Evelina Smith was the first woman to translate the Bible from the original languages, publishing her work in 1876,” she explains. “She and her Bible were the topic of my junior seminar research for history. I honestly teared up when I saw the Bible. Once again, a moment that only a history nerd would understand.”

Pratt gained valuable insights as she worked with young visitors in the museum. “This internship helped me realize the importance of creating engaging activities for learners that will help them understand the Bible more,” she says. “Videos, games, dramatizations, and so many other activities were used at the museum and I witnessed children’s faces light up with excitement through each of these. More than anything, I noticed that behind each activity was a passionate team of people—passionate about teaching the Bible.”

Pratt recently accepted a position as a high school Bible teacher at Anderson Christian School for the fall of 2022. She will bring to the job not only her Erskine education and experience but also the skills she gained during her internship. She hopes to begin a master’s program in Bible teaching at Columbia International University in 2023.

Shown in photo across top of page: Mary Pratt, left, with other summer interns at the Museum of the Bible

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