Naval history internship leads Rebecca Williams ’15 to archeological finds, career discovery

Posted by Centre News in Internships, News 28 Jul 2014

beccaMuch is made in the news about adventurers searching for treasure in sunken ships, but many of the sunken military vessels that litter the oceans the world over are rich with historical treasures other than gold doubloons. The job of preserving these precious artifacts falls to the Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). The UAB is charged with all matters related to the science of underwater archaeology of these crafts: identification, research, interpretation, preservation, conservation, inventory and management.

This summer, rising senior Rebecca Williams, of Wilmore, Ky., was able to combine her love of SCUBA with her fascination with archaeology for what has turned out to be the perfect internship with the UAB at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

“As an anthropology major, I am more interested in the physical/biological anthropology and archaeology sides,” Williams says. “I knew I wanted to do something in archaeology this summer,  because it is something in which I don’t have any experience. I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into [at the UAB] but I knew it would be a good experience.

“I’m really enjoying the atmosphere at the UAB,” she continues. “I work with several underwater archaeologists and contractors who each have individual jobs. I aid anyone who needs help; at this point I’ve mostly been working on different reports. It is a purely academic environment, and I find this really enjoyable. I’m learning something new every day. Soon, I‘ll begin researching and analyzing a set of artifacts believed to belong to USS Alligator, an anti-slave patrol schooner of the 1800s.”

While some of Williams’ tasks involve office work, such as writing thank you letters, documenting correspondence in and out of the office and website work, her favorite aspect of the internship so far has been the research.

“I was able to go to the Library of Congress to do research on a schooner used in the War of 1812. This schooner was used by the U.S. Navy and accompanied the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla. It was intentionally sunk after a British blockade.

“I have also been required to do some work on reports for several projects on shipwrecks,” she adds. “I wrote a section of the final report for the 2014 project on a WWII shipwreck called USS Houston, and edited the formatting of the artifact reports for USS Scorpion. I also worked on editing the references section of a D-Day anniversary report. Finally, I worked on tracing the ship plans and damage reports for USS Houston that will be used in a meeting at the Pentagon.”

But no matter what she’s working on, Williams has found the experience meaningful.

“I think the biggest challenges are the expectations coming from my supervisors and from myself. The things I’m working on are very useful. The sections of the reports I wrote will go high up in the Navy; the thank you letters I worked on will go across the world. The expectations to perform well are high. While it is challenging, I’m really enjoying it. I can push myself to do the things that I normally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing—like writing.

“Centre has taught me to push myself in this way,” she continues. “My Centre experience has allowed me to develop my skills that I have absolutely applied to this internship. I also feel like my study abroad experience in London prepared me for this summer. I was able to become more independent and learn how to live and experience life on my own and away from my home. I learned how to get an education out of my comfort zone. I’m so grateful for the education Centre has given me.”

And like so many students before her, Williams credits Centre’s career and professional development staff for their guidance.

“They helped me every step of the way. They reviewed my resume and helped me apply for funding through their office. Without this help, and especially without the funding, I would have never been able to participate in this opportunity. The funding allows me to focus on my internship in the expensive city of D.C.

“I love this internship and I am so grateful for this experience,” she adds. “I know that it will add to my resumé and give me essential hands-on experience for my future. I hope to pursue a career in either archaeology or physical anthropology. This internship is giving me the behind-the-scenes experience I need for any type of museum job in these fields I may have.”

by Cindy Long