You learn most when you get hands-on experience. You can learn facts, but when you get into the environment, the facts come to life."
View from the Vatican
On a flight to Rome in 2012, Parker Williams’ mother met the Rev. Mark Haydu, who was returning home to the Vatican from a visit to the U.S. The seat mates struck what became a lasting friendship. The next day, Haydu gave Williams a private tour of the silent Sistine Chapel, before it opened for the day’s public tours, and many areas of the Vatican that are rarely seen by visitors. About six months later, Williams learned that Haydu was the international director of the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums.
Haydu became like a member of the Williams family, and on one of their visits to Rome, he told Williams about the Patrons of the Vatican Museums’ internships. Intrigued, the general HES major applied, but asked that her family’s friendship with Haydu not be a factor in the selection process. It was agreed, and she was accepted to the 2015 program.
When most students think of internship possibilities, the Vatican probably doesn’t naturally come to mind. But Parker Williams’ summer in the Holy City inspired her with a new vision for the future.
Q: What is the mission of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums?
A: Sadly, much of the city of Rome, especially the priceless ancient artworks, is crumbling. The patrons are seeking to restore and preserve the works in the Vatican Museums, many of them at least 500 years old.
Q: What did you do as an intern?
A: My internship developed into three areas. First, with another intern, I created a new electronic filing system for the Patrons of the Vatican Museum records, which previously lived in old file cabinets. Second, I conducted private tours for patrons, who get to see the Sistine Chapel before it opens for the day, as well as other nonpublic spaces of the Vatican. Third, I took over the management of all social media and communications. I published e-newsletters and the biannual print newsletter, and I ran the Vatican Patrons website. Before my internship, I had learned successful social media strategies through my two blogs, and I applied those strategies to the Patrons’ social media. The graduate fellow who preceded me was a social media genius, and it was awesome to learn from her. Not only did I learn what worked for the Patrons’ social media, but I also learned strategies that I can use for myself.
Q: What did you learn that couldn’t be learned in a classroom?
A: Everything. Honestly, I’m not a classroom person. I have taken as many of my classes online as I could. My internship with the Patrons was in a learning environment. It was like a classroom, but not in a classroom. I had the freedom to do what I needed to do. They gave me the power to say, “I have this idea, let’s try it.” Everyone should be required to do an internship to gain real-world experience. You learn most when you get hands-on experience. You can learn facts, but when you get into the environment, the facts come to life.
Q: What was particularly rewarding?
A: A couple of our ideas have actually been implemented, and a couple are still being considered. I think you learn most when you see your ideas in action. You think, “Wow, that was a good idea. I need to have more ideas and keep going.” It becomes an affirming learning experience.
Q: Did your internship make you a more attractive job candidate?
A: This internship will draw attention to my résumé, but I hope potential employers will ask me about it. I want to tell them what I learned, including the kind of office I would like to be a part of, filled with creative people, and also what it’s like to be on the other side. For example, when a patron walks in, what he or she sees is grand. But in the backroom, we’re scrambling to make it grand. You can’t learn that in a classroom.
Q: Has this internship influenced your career decisions?
A: A dream job for me is to be a social media manager, constantly pushing social media presence. I loved doing that at the Vatican, and I’m good at it. I hadn’t known that working with social media could be a career. Working at the Vatican Museums made it real that this is a passion of mine.
(Editor’s Update: Williams’ experience at the Vatican has paid big dividends. A few short months after her return, she landed a position as social media strategist with a Nashville advertising agency.)