U.S. Mint internship is priceless experience

McDaniel College student Valerie Lamb at her internship at the U.S. Mint
October 10, 2017

Before Valerie Lamb ’18 reported to work for her summer internship, she knew little about the U.S. Mint or its Heritage Assets Program. The Miami native had never lived in Washington, D.C., nor learned to navigate its metro system. She was uncertain if she would like the work and nervous about managing life in the city. But Lamb, a Political Science & International Studies major with an Acting minor, recognized the valuable opportunity and seized it.

Nearly two months after the internship ended, the senior continues to reap the rewards of her experience and express gratitude for everyone who helped her gain access to it — starting with 1984 alumnus James Proctor, who created the internship just for McDaniel students after being inspired at a networking event at the College.

Proctor, a technical project manager at the Mint, knows from experience that internships are key to seeing how academics translate to careers. As a History major, his ability to read 18th-century manuscripts helped him land a competitive internship with the Maryland State Archives, which gave him an edge for a job at the National Archives and Records Administration soon after he graduated.

Over the course of his career, Proctor has learned new skill sets, and earned a master’s in organizational communication. He worked in public affairs for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and as a program analyst with the IRS. He has become increasingly interested in technology and e-commerce, and has become a leader in complex IT implementation projects.

“I realized I had an opportunity to help a current student get their foot in the door,” says Proctor. “Once they’re in the door, they can decide where they want to go from there.”

Proctor shared his idea with Heather Wilensky, executive director of Alumni Relations, who reached out to Connie Sgarlata, director of the Center for Experience & Opportunity. The CEO is McDaniel’s one-stop shop that focuses on experiential learning and connects students with internships, fellowships, jobs, study abroad programs and alumni mentors.

The CEO recommended Lamb for the internship, and awarded her a Summer Intern Fellowship Award to defray her expenses. She found lodging with a sorority sister outside the city for several weeks and with a high school friend in Georgetown the last few weeks.

“I was excited but really nervous too,” says Lamb, who reported to Robert Goler, curator of the Mint, and took on projects for the Historian’s office. The Mint is the nation’s sole manufacturer of legal tender coinage and is responsible for producing circulating coinage for the nation to conduct its trade and commerce. The Mint also produces commemorative coins, Congressional Gold Medals and silver and gold bullion coins. Most of the artifacts maintained by the Mint are items used in the design and production of coins, rather than coins themselves.

Lamb’s assignments included organizing annual reports dating back to 1876, researching the origin of a century-old safe and starting the process of tracking down the fate of a mysterious 1886 Alexander Hamilton gold medal. One historian invited her to sit in on a marketing meeting to talk about millennials.

“My bosses were so kind, generous with their time and encouraging,” says Lamb. “They were a big part of what made the experience so great.”

In many ways, she says the work of her internship felt similar to the assignments she’d tackled in her classes: researching subjects on databases, condensing research into shorter versions of what she learned and meeting deadlines.

“The main difference is how in-depth I had to be in my research with the Mint,” says Lamb, who made use of the Library of Congress, the Archive Center at the National Museum of American History and other government resources. “I learned how to dig deeper and that there is always a way to find answers.”

Working 40 hours per week at her internship, plus a part-time job on weekends to make ends meet, didn’t faze Lamb. She got comfortable with the metro and learned to feel at home in D.C. The Green Terror softball player also scored major points with her new colleagues by joining their coed, slow-pitch team, aptly named Cold Hard Cash. They played against teams of staffers from other federal agencies, congressional offices and even the U.N.

“We played on the field between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument,” she says. “Playing softball right by the reflecting pool was surreal.”

In February, Lamb plans to take the LSAT to explore the possibility of attending law school while living and working in D.C. after graduation. Thanks to her internship, she has plenty of connections in the nation’s capital.