History in His Future

UNC student Owen Volzke stands in front of a model of the Starship Enterprise during his internship at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

All photos courtesy of Owen Volzke

When most people enter the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., they see a museum filled with exhibits and with other visitors, school groups and staff.

University of Northern Colorado student Owen Volzke saw the museum from a completely different perspective.

Volzke, who spent summer 2013 as an intern at the museum, says the experience of stepping into the building daily, before it opened to the public, left a lasting impression.

"It was a little overwhelming and indescribable," Volzke said. "What struck me throughout my internship was how the museum looked when it was empty of visitors, versus being surrounded by thousands of guests. The opportunity to explore the National Air and Space Museum (when it's empty of guests) is something that not many people have experienced, so I relished this unique opportunity."

Volzke, who grew up in Arvada, knew even before college that history would be part of his future. Arriving at UNC, he majored in history with a secondary education emphasis.Owen Volzke and John Glenn

But as he reached his junior year, he wasn't sure if he wanted to teach high school history after graduation, or go on to graduate school to prepare for teaching at the college level. To help him make the decision, he sought out an internship, eventually accepting the opportunity to spend the summer working at the Smithsonian.

"It offered me an opportunity to work at one of the top museums in the world, and learn from some amazing curators and historians, while further refining my historical skills," he said.

When he first talked with his supervisor at the museum, he learned that his UNC education had not only prepared him for the internship, but that his professors had helped him clinch the coveted position with letters of recommendation.

Volzke also found that the knowledge he gained at UNC helped him in his daily work.

"After my experiences this summer, I realized that my professors gave me the skills necessary to achieve success once I am finished with my undergraduate degree," he said. "I would have failed miserably over the summer had it not been for both the content and skills I either learned or honed throughout my time at UNC."

Volzke's work at the Smithsonian was rich in experience. He met and worked with retired Mercury Seven astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, and Apollo 10 commander Thomas Stafford as he helped develop the structure and content of the Glenn Lecture featuring General Stafford—an experience he describes as surreal because Glenn is one of Volzke's lifelong heroes.

He researched not only the history of past space exploration, but also the history of a popular future space exploration icon.

"Throughout my internship I researched everything from the artifacts in Sally Ride's house to the history of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, to the patches of the Space Shuttle Program," he said.

His work surrounding the Enterprise (in advance of the icon's 50th anniversary) involved combing through museum files that chronicled the artifact's history, along with compiling reports on the ship's restoration, paint and exhibit history.

"I wasn't a Star Trek fan before this internship, but working with the Enterprise throughout the summer helped me develop an appreciation for the historical significance of the Star Trek franchise within the cultural history of the United States, Volzke said.

Returning to Colorado after his internship, Volzke began the last semester of his undergraduate work student teaching in Arvada, and his perspective on the future has solidified.

"At this point I'm planning on working either as a history teacher or in a museum until I apply for graduate school in a year or so," he said. "As I move forward, I cannot fathom my internship not influencing how I approach history."