UMW senior Lindsey Crawford was already having a bad day. So, when the Washington, D.C., number popped up on the screen of her iPhone, she figured it was just another telemarketer. But she slipped out of her afternoon class in Combs Hall, anyway, to pick it up.
It was “a chance of a lifetime,” Crawford said of the call that turned her day – and her year – around. The Smithsonian was on the other end of the line, offering her a summer internship at its wildly popular new presence, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). A year after it opened to hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, lines of patrons still snake around the iconic building each day, waiting for timed-entry tickets.
It was just one more win for the overachieving Crawford, who’s majoring in historic preservation, minoring in museum studies and pursuing a master’s degree in education. She was knee-deep in coursework, extracurriculars – and jobs to pay for it all – when the Smithsonian gig came along. With a commute and without a paycheck, the job would strain her time and her budget, but it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“Even though I was struggling to make ends meet, it was so worth it,” she said. “Nothing beat walking through that museum door every week.”
Crawford, who hails from Chesapeake, Virginia, was drawn to Mary Washington’s historic preservation program. She tacked on a minor and teaching certificate to chase her dream of becoming a museum educator. So, when her advisor, Professor of Historic Preservation Cristina Turdean, suggested she try for a Smithsonian internship, she was in.
“True, I told her – and all my students – that interning at the Smithsonian was quite possible,” Turdean said. “But in the end, it was Lindsey’s ambition and work that made her dream come true.”
Part of the NMAAHC’s public programming team, Crawford helped further the museum’s mission of sharing the African-American story, from segregation and the civil rights movement to spectacular achievements in music and art. She drew on her experiential Mary Washington coursework to do her job, creating an activity to complement a timeline-of-slavery exhibit and contributing to panel discussions on the 1967 Newark Rebellion.
“When I wasn’t doing that, I was educating myself on everything I could,” said Crawford, who poured over the museum’s 37,000-some objects, including a segregationist sign from UMW’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic Freedom Rides.
She’s worked, volunteered or interned at Mary Washington House, Fort Pitt and the Carnegie; James Monroe and Dahlgren Heritage museums; and Fredericksburg’s branch of the Children’s Museum of Richmond. And to pay her tuition, she’s filled in the gaps as a nanny and dog-sitter.
On campus, she’s Habitat for Humanity Club president and works as a resident assistant, “which is like the most rewarding job ever,” she said. Plus, she founded the “Bee Kind Project,” which supports all manner of people in need.
Her rare breaks include the ones she indulged in this summer, when she’d slip into the NMAAHC’s Contemplative Court before work. Morning sun streaming in through the skylight, she’d gaze into the reflection pool, pondering a painful piece of the past and imagining her future.
“I’m so thankful for my major and program that allows me to actually experience what I learn outside of the classroom,” she posted on Facebook. “Without the historic preservation department and my advisor, I would not be on the path I’m on now.”