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Samantha Sarsfield

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Samantha Sarsfield

How did the Richards Center make a difference in your undergraduate career? When I first encountered this question, I laughed. Not because of the question itself, but because of the countless answers that I could provide. I applied for a Richards Center internship sort of on a whim during the fall of my junior year at Penn State. I had heard about this opportunity in one of my history classes, and I thought it would be a cool summer job that would look good on a resume. Little did I know that submitting that application would change the course of not only my undergraduate education but also my future career.

I was selected for a summer 2014 internship in the Education Department at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. My experiences there influenced me to such an extent that I reapplied for the position the following year and returned to Harpers Ferry for a second summer in 2015. Taken together, those two internships have been nothing less than an unparalleled source of development- both professionally and personally.

As a secondary education major, the Richards Center internships have prepared me for my future profession in ways that an undergraduate education alone never could have. Before Harpers Ferry, I had studied seemingly endless philosophies of education, instructional approaches, and teaching techniques. I had read books, attended lectures, and completed research assignments about those topics, but I had never had the opportunity to truly apply those concepts. The Richards Center internships provided me with the hands-on experience that my academic coursework lacked. In Harpers Ferry, I was actually teaching. I led groups of school students through interpretive programs that traced the multi-faceted, centuries worth of history that the small town encompassed. I developed and instrumented a variety of interactive activities for visitors of all ages that immersed them in history. I finally put into practice the methods and strategies that I had learned about in a classroom for so long.

Currently, I am finishing my final semester of student teaching and preparing for graduation in December. Because of the Richards Center, I entered the classroom with a multitude of skills that have eased my transition from being a student to being a teacher. The Harpers Ferry internships provided me with extensive practice in areas such as oral presentation, historical interpretation, time management, vocal delivery, planning/preparation, and so much more. Most importantly, they have helped me to realize my own potential and given me the confidence in myself and in my ability as a teacher that I needed. I have even been selected for the honor of serving as the College of Education’s student marshal at the fall 2015 graduation ceremony. I can credit that accomplishment not only to the quality education that I received at Penn State but also to the invaluable experience I gained through the Richards Center. Working at Harpers Ferry has impacted me so much that I am even considering a career in the Park Service. So to answer the original question, the opportunities available through the Richards Center did nothing less than change my life.