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Heading for the Archives – Lander Senior Pioneering a Path for History Students

Becca Watford
Lander University senior Becca Watford stands with Miriam Kleiman, program director for public affairs, at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

In December 2017, Lander University senior Becca Watford got a Christmas present she could have never pulled out of a stocking.

Only four months before, she had landed a dream internship at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. - the first-ever Lander student to do so.

The internship had been everything she had imagined, but now, with a new year approaching, her bosses told her they weren't letting her go - and they didn't.

This past January, Watford achieved another first by becoming the Archives' first-ever long-distance intern, dividing her time between Lander in person and D.C. online.

"We usually accept only a few dozen college interns each year from the D.C. area," said Miriam Kleiman, Archives' program director for Public Affairs. "But Becca was so good, we had to find some way to keep her on after she went back to Lander to finish her studies."

Even though Watford is only 21, her road to the Archives was more than 10 years in the making - ever since reading her first stories about ancient Europe and colonial independence from Great Britain.

"I think in high school is when I officially decided to major in history," Watford said. "And I grew up with a knack for all things historical - be it pre-Columbus America, ancient Greek and Egyptian societies, or just learning about my own family's past."

After becoming a member of Lander's Honors College, she was encouraged to study abroad or do an internship - "So I did some research on interning opportunities with the Archives … and applied to their History Office in mid-June 2017."

Within a few weeks, Watford was accepted - and arrived at the Archives on Aug. 22, 2017 for her first day as a new intern.

"That was a very big deal," said Dr. Lillian Craton, associate professor of English and director of Lander's Honors College. "For Becca to work there puts her alongside-and learning from-some of the most important historians and writers in the nation."

Watford started in the Archives' History Office, working on oral histories and scanning photos.

But within a month, after assisting Kleiman and Public Affairs with Native American Heritage Month, she found herself in demand by both departments.

"I was so impressed with Becca's knowledge, interest, and skill that I just kept asking her supervisor if I could steal her away for other projects," Kleiman said. "Becca was so good, she was able to continue to do both jobs."

Part of Watford's duties included:

  • preparing for the opening of the new "Remembering Vietnam" exhibit, which opened on Veteran's Day, 2017;
  • researching and writing posts for the Archives' "Pieces of History" blog;
  • handling VIP tours, phone calls from the press, and escorting reporters through the Archives; and
  • assisting with a C-SPAN film interview of the Archives' curator and the Archivist of the United States.
Lander University senior Becca Watford shows a National Archives event photo to Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I also helped Mount Vernon film a quick video about their relationship with the National Archives," Watford said.

When asked to compare her two internships, Watford said the first one was more fun because it was fulltime and in D.C.

"I'm not able to do as much during the second one because I'm a fulltime student - so I work only five-to-10 hours a week just researching or answering phone calls," she said. "But I love what I'm doing."

When asked what role he played in helping Watford get the internships, Lander history professor Dr. Robert Figueira said it was all "Becca's doing."

"I think her achievement in getting them will greatly help Lander in future student placements of this kind," said Figueira, who taught Watford in four courses. "Becca is a wonderful ambassador who makes the University, its history faculty, and its history majors look very good."

Watford's second internship will end on June 21 - and from there she is seriously considering making the Archives her one and only career path.

"I'm hoping to get a permanent job there as an archivist after I graduate Lander in December 2018," she said.

If that happens, Watford will likely be calling D.C. her home for a long time to come - especially now that she knows her way around the city.

"Learning the city's Metro system was my biggest challenge," she said. "But I think my most valuable experience has been learning how a history degree can come in handy in new ways."