Montana State University

MSU students intern at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

April 18, 2014 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

MSU students who interned at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History this spring were, from left, Pannu Khin, Matthew Kennedy, Katherine Wright, Connor Murnion, Riley Shearer, Ben Moon and Kathryn Pintar. They are shown with “Colossal Head 4” outside of the museum. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Kennedy).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN – When Pannu Khin came to the United States three years ago, the first museum she visited was the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

This spring, the Montana State University student from Burma returned to the museum for a week-long Smithsonian internship, an opportunity that she and six other MSU students received through the MSU Honors College and MSU’s Undergraduate Scholars Program.

“It was a really, really great opportunity,” said Katherine Wright of Bellingham, Wash., a freshman majoring in biochemistry.

MSU’s seven Smithsonian interns described their experiences at MSU’s 20th annual Student Research Celebration on April 15, the same day that the National Museum of Natural History welcomed the arrival of the 65-million-year-old Wankel T. rex from MSU’s Museum of the Rockies.

Part of Wright’s job was scouring documents and literature to look for references to insects that caused the decline of the American Chestnut. Khin, a junior in cell biology and neuroscience, helped organize longhorn beetles in the Smithsonian’s massive entomology collection. She said the internship wasn’t long, but she believes that researchers far into the future will appreciate her contribution.

Kathryn Pintar from Spokane, Wash., a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, spent most of her time working with moths. Surprised by the variety she saw, she showed photos of a moth as large as her hand and moths that are naturally disguised to look like owls and snakes.

Ben Moon and Connor Murnion explained how they dried and labeled hundreds of tiny wasps. Moon, from Kalispell, is a freshman in electrical engineering. Murnion, from Helena, is a junior in cell biology and neuroscience. He is also one of MSU’s three winners of a 2014 Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering.

Riley Shearer from Lake Oswego, Ore., a Hughes Scholar and a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, biochemistry and economics, discussed his part in integrating insects from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the Smithsonian collection.

Matthew Kennedy from Whitefish, a junior majoring in anthropology, showed photos of environmental refugees in Kenya, New Orleans, Haiti, Bangladesh and Japan and discussed the importance of wording in scientific communications.

All but Kennedy worked in the Smithsonian’s entomology collection during their internships. Even though none of them major in entomology and said they don’t plan to switch now, they said they enjoyed the temporary change. They also appreciated the opportunity to visit rare collections and national monuments, experience big-city living, and explore Washington, D.C. in their spare time.

“I felt as though walking through D.C. was unlike any other city I have been to. The history really felt like it was there,” Kennedy said. “It was really neat.”

Shearer said, ““It was vastly different from my normal activities. I had a fantastic time.”  

This was the third year that MSU students have interned in the Smithsonian’s Alternative Spring Break Internship Program, said Scarlet Schwendtner, program coordinator for the Undergraduate Scholars Program.

Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of the MSU Honors College, said the Smithsonian internships are valuable because “They represent an opportunity for our students to engage in meaningful research at one of our nation’s premier museums.”

She also encouraged more MSU students to apply, saying, “The research experience and professional networking opportunities will be of tremendous benefit to our students in their future careers.”

Projects for the Smithsonian interns are coordinated and administered through the Smithsonian Institution, but the MSU Honors College and Undergraduate Scholars Program offer financial assistance for MSU participants.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or