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Late 1890s Come to Life in Cross-Discipline Collaborative Internship

Published: May 23, 2019

Selena Martinez ’19 has spent a fair amount of time in the late 1890s.

The UT history major, who recently graduated, held an internship at the Henry B. Plant Museum and took a museum studies class where she helped create an exhibit featuring Clara Barton.

Most recently she participated in a group internship experience creating a documentary for the museum featuring letters from a nurse and a soldier serving in the Spanish American War.

“I feel like I do know quite a lot about the museum,” said Martinez, of Tampa. “Would I have survived without central AC? Probably not. But I do feel like I know more than the average person.”

Plant Museum Documentary
The documentary, "Letters from Tampa: Two Spanish-American War Stories," uses the letters of a nurse and soldier to tell the story of how "the U.S. Army and Tampa were unprepared for the demands that resulted from the city's selection as the point of embarkation for troops traveling to Cuba during the Spanish-American War."

This past semester, Martinez was one of five students from a variety of majors all working together to produce a documentary for the museum. The team included Martinez and her advisor, Charles McGraw Groh, associate professor of history; Ashley Acevedo ’19 and Rachel Parrella ’19, film and media arts majors, whose advisor was Aaron Walker, associate professor of film, animation and new media; and Michael Ramsey ’20 and Emma Beekman ’19, musical theatre majors, whose advisor was Paul Finocchiaro, associate professor of theatre.

“The way it works is that a multidisciplinary team of students and faculty advisors work together on one project to create something novel or solve a question or problem for an employer,” said Eric Freundt, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry which oversees the Applied Learning Experience (ALEX). “The program is pretty unique and allows students to gain the exact type of experience that employers say they want – students who can work across disciplines to solve real-world problems.”

The documentary, Letters from Tampa: Two Spanish-American War Stories, uses the letters of a nurse and soldier to tell the story of how “the U.S. Army and Tampa were unprepared for the demands that resulted from the city's selection as the point of embarkation for troops traveling to Cuba during the Spanish-American War.” The film will be used in the museum and posted on the museum’s website.

Martinez said her work on the documentary has given her “a taste of the real world of public history and archiving in which I want to pursue a career in.” She gathered research for the script used in the documentary and worked closely with the museum staff on sifting through the archives for photography that was applicable.

Acevedo, of Edenton, NC, who worked on the film production and editing, said the collaborative experience was a good challenge to build on her professional skills, which were nurtured in the program’s mix of autonomy and guidance.

“We had to work with a team of people to produce a product for a client. All the work that went into doing that was learned previously in my academic courses, and this internship gave me the opportunity to create a film professionally,” Acevedo said. “This program stands out because it gives students the freedom to take creative control while still having guidelines and restrictions, as you would with an actual client.”

Plant Museum Documentary
The Applied Learning Experience (ALEX) program teaches students how to work across disciplines to solve real-world problems.

Susan Carter, museum curator, said the crew spent an entire day in the museum working on the production. The crew also filmed scenes outdoors in several locations, including the Hillsborough River State Park. 

“We were impressed with their professionalism, expertise and knowledge. Every detail was well thought out,” said Carter. “I personally loved the costumes. After studying the black and white historic photographs of the Spanish-American War, it was wonderful to see how the actors’ colorful costumes brought the scenes to life. The entire production is a great learning experience for the students and was a win/win for everyone involved.”

Parrella said it was her first experience collaborating on a project, which forced her to be patient and work on her personal communication skills.

“It was like a giant group project, but it was different. As filmmakers, we have a different process and have different concerns than the theatre or history department did,” said Parrella, of Lynbrook, NY. “So making sure we had everything on our side figured out and trying to communicate those needs to the rest of the group was new for me. Usually, working with other film majors, they understand the process that is part of making a film, where others might not have had that experience.”

In addition to the documentary team, there is a second team creating video tutorials for an educational startup called JustLearn, which uses aquaponic systems as tools for K-12 STEM education. Freundt said they are looking to expand the ALEX teams to five in the fall and another five next spring.

ALEX is open to all students of junior or senior status and is registered for as BAC490 Applied Learning Experience. Students are evaluated on a writing requirement, presentation and their professionalism.

“It’s a unique program, it’s innovative and it addresses an expressed need that employers have articulated,” Freundt said. “It has the potential to be highly impactful. This will be a culminating experience that will be a real feather in the cap of our students.”