UM-Flint Students Help Preserve Buick's History

Share or print this article

Sloan Museum's Buick Gallery and Research Center houses the history of the once Flint-based Buick Motor Division. Each semester, the staff of the center welcome history students from the University of Michigan-Flint for a unique learning experience as Collections Management Interns. Interns receive supervised, hands-on experience working directly with the faculty and staff, curating the museum's collection of records that chronicle the history of the carmaker.  

Staff members provide the most direct supervision working with the interns on defined projects as part of the learning strategy developed by the interns' faculty supervisor. Over the course of one semester, students complete 100 hours of supervised work, learning methods in museum practices and records management.

Angela Passarelli

"The more history I've learned as I earn my degree, the more I've become convinced that I want to pursue a career working in a museum." recalled Angela Passarelli, UM-Flint's fall 2010 collections intern. She was especially excited about the skills she learned throughout the course of her internship. "I'm not sure if [automotive] history will be my focus, but the internship has provided me with the kind of experience that I can use no matter what type of history or museum I work in."

Angela's learning experience is precisely what members of the Buicktown Chapter of the Buick Club of America were thinking of when they partnered with the University of Michigan-Flint's History Department.  It is through the generosity of the Buick Club that students are able to earn a stipend for their internships.

"This type of compensation is especially critical for students these days," according to Faculty Supervisor and History Professor Thomas Henthorn. "In addition to their studies, a large number of our students are also working. Without this type of compensation, many of our students would not be able to take advantage of the significant experience an internship such as the Buick Collections Intern."

Jane McIntosh, curator of collections at the Sloan Museum's Buick Gallery can attest to the value of the internship.

"It is really a fabulous partnership," says McIntosh. "I know the students get some needed career experience, and the museum has been able to organize and make its collections more accessible to researchers and collectors who have a real interest in these records."

Roberta Vasilow, president of the Buicktown chapter pointed out the benefits and reasons the Buick Club became involved with the internship program.

"We saw a real need for this kind of thing," recalled Vasilow. "We saw from our volunteers how committed the museum staff was to preserving the heritage of Buick."

She also noted that as committed as the museum was, they needed more help than their volunteers could offer. It was the need for more assistance with organizing and managing the Buick records that led members of the Buicktown chapter to approach the University of Michigan-Flint, and create an internship with the museum with the explicit mission of managing and making accessible the collections of the Buick Motor Company. Since 2009, the local Buick Club has funded three internships and is working with museum staff and university faculty to assess the progress of the program. So far, the membership is pleased with the both the quality of interns and the work that is being done at the Buick Gallery.

"It has been a pleasure working with the interns from the University of Michigan-Flint's History Department," commented Suzanne Sherman, the Buicktown chapter's liaison between the interns and Buick Club. Like many museums and archives, the Buick Gallery received much of its material about the history of Buick Motor Company as large donations of unorganized materials and artifacts. Since the inception of the internship, history students have been able to catalog and organize a great deal of material and make it available for the museum and the general public. It is this aspect of the internship that members have found particular compelling, remarked Sherman. "This material is invaluable to people who are working on old Buicks. As members of Buicktown Chapter and the Buick Club of America, we also hope to create interest in our hobby of restoration to a new generation of history students, because that is what we are doing–preserving little pieces of history."

"This internship really demonstrates what's possible when communities find ways to work together towards a common goal," remarked Professor Henthorn. "We have scores of enthusiastic students ready to take advantage of these kinds of experiences, and the museum staff has the expertise to help them learn, but it is really the generosity of the Buick Club that makes this work."

Henthorn hopes to use the Buick collections internship as a model for other community partnerships that will help the university expand its internship program and meet the learning needs of the student as well as the needs of the community.

The Office of Marketing & Communications can be reached at [email protected].