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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Caitlin Townsend

Caitlin is researching the scientific revolution in early modern Europe as it relates to the collection, display and narrative of natural history collections. Her work concentrates on the Royal Society of London as well as other, less formal collectors of fossils and plants. She is interested in the role natural history collections played in the development of theories about the earth and the source of order in nature.

She is also pursuing a Museum Studies Certificate and will intern in Scotland this summer at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Her project involves re-imagining a gallery after the removal of an older exhibit. “The museum is quirky, like three museums in one. There is a lot of creativity possible with this space.” Her work there will be a collaborative effort, engaging the community and local resources in designing the new gallery.

Caitlin hopes to continue to do museum work when she finishes her Ph.D. And she has a good deal of experience; she previously worked at the Henry Ford Museum and most recently interned at the Detroit Institute of Arts last summer through the Rackham Arts of Citizenship summer fellowship program. Her work there involved developing curriculum for K-12 students that designed routes through the museum using art to think about mathematical concepts. “The kids saw the piece in a whole new way,” she recalls when a group of 9th graders were asked to examine a Marsden Hartley painting entitled “Log Jam, Penobscot Bay,” with an eye towards line segments and rays. “It helped them take abstract geometrical concepts and think about the way they operate in the real world.”

She enjoyed her time at the DIA enough to continue interning there. She serves in a volunteer capacity in the museum’s development office, working with staff there to review their funding models.

The Arts of Citizenship program is quite familiar to Caitlin; she completed a previous internship through the program, working with the Center for the Education of Women to record an oral history of past scholarship recipients and program participants. She is now the co-chair of a student group to engage a community of people interested in pushing forward public scholarship initiatives for Rackham students. “Most students are interested in engaged pedagogy opportunities, but public scholarship can take many forms, and we are building a community of students and options.”

She decided to attend Michigan after being accepted and touring the campus. “I knew it was a great fit – people were so friendly and supportive of students' professional and personal goals.” She deferred her acceptance a year to complete a Master’s program at the University of Cambridge.

As a Rackham Merit Fellow, she attended the Summer Institute and made a number of friends there. She’s been able to find mentors and networks in unexpected places. “As a first generation college student, my Arts of Citizenship internships have provided opportunities I wouldn’t have had on my own. I feel validated as a student that Rackham is invested in my career success and provides so many opportunities to build a professional identity.”