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Career Moves: Initiative leads sophomore to museum internship

Sam Coury discovered a love for P.T. Barnum, the famous 19th century American showman, when she researched his life for a high school paper. Until last fall, the current Elon University sophomore figured an internship with The Barnum Museum in Connecticut was nothing more than “fantasy.” Then she visited Career Services.

Elon University sophomore Sam Coury

Coury is the second person to be featured this fall in a four-part series of E-net profiles on the recent experiences of students and alumni who use the Career Center to not only find job and internship openings, but to prepare for interviews and polish resumes with guidance from Career Services staff.

It was that assistance, and a stroke of good timing, that landed Coury a position with the museum this summer, where she worked with staff to inventory its collections while contributing to a “bash” that brought hundreds of visitors to the site in celebration of Barnum’s 200th birthday. Career Services staff encouraged Coury to contact the museum about an internship despite there being no advertised program for one.

As it turns out, the museum does welcome interns, and Coury was the first to contact museum staff about summer opportunities. Her passion made her a lock for the job. “Barnum was very family-oriented and worked to entertain children. He revolutionized the entertainment industry globally,” Coury said. “It’s unfortunate that not many people know more about him.”

Barnum founded the traveling show that would eventually be known as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The master of advertising was also a businessman and, at one point, a successful Connecticut politician.

Mother Nature played a role in the internship responsibilities. A week before Coury’s scheduled start date, a tornado heavily damaged the museum, with wind and rain, and subsequent water pipe leaks, wreaking havoc on the collections.

Museum staff turned to their undergraduate intern for help. Over the next several weeks, Coury went to work cataloging hundreds of documents, photographs, and textiles for insurance purposes. The native of New Kensington, Pa., learned from the book restoration experts and conservators who visited the site.

“One thing that we all really liked about Samantha was that she was excited to be here,” said Jaime Knoedler, director of education at The Barnum Museum. “During meetings and discussions, she always had great ideas. Those were things we loved.”

What does Coury recommend students consider when looking for an internship? Her top tip is to pursue a passion. Her second suggestion is to do more than asked, and offer services for projects that perhaps no one else has considered.

“Once I got the internship, I went back to Career Services a few more times for advice, to learn how to be a receptive intern. Well, how to be more than an intern, really. How to be an employee,” said the sport and event management major. “Find something that you like, then find a place to go with it. I got lucky. I didn’t want a conventional job for the summer. I wanted something I could look back on as career building.”

That gels with the observations made by the Elon University staff member who fostered Coury’s interest in working with The Barnum Museum.

“People either wait for something to happen, or they make something happen,” said Career Services counselor René Jackson. “This was not an internship that was posted anywhere. She went after it and asked that they take her on.”

Though graduation is years away, Coury knows what she wants for a career, and much like P.T. Barnum, it involves show business. She said her ideal job would be to work with Ringling Bros. or Cirque du Soleil, both of which invoke a nostalgic feel. “I would love to run the circus!” she said.

Students and alumni looking for more information on internship and career opportunities, plus services that university staff can provide for a job hunt, visit Elon Career Services on the first floor of the Duke Building or by exploring the office’s website at www.elon.edu/careers.

Eric Townsend,
10/28/2010 8:13 AM