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Latrobe native Curtin's passions collide as intern with Smithsonian museum

Jacob Tierney
| Sunday, July 24, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Pam Curtin of Latrobe, an intern at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, stands in front of the Discovery space shuttle, which is on display at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.
Pam Curtin of Latrobe, an intern at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, stands in front of the Discovery space shuttle, which is on display at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.
Pam Curtin of Latrobe, an intern at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, stands in front of a lunar lander on display at the museum in Washington D.C.
Pam Curtin of Latrobe, an intern at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, stands in front of a lunar lander on display at the museum in Washington D.C.

Pamela Curtin of Latrobe spent her summer helping others look to the stars.

The West Virginia University graduate student will wrap up an internship at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum this week.

“I see myself as interested in both science and history, and seeing the areas where they come together,” said Curtin, 24. “I'm really interested in trying to make small connections between today and the past.”

She has had the chance to explore those connections every day as an education and exhibit design intern in the museum's education department.

Curtin is studying public history at WVU, a field devoted to bringing history education to the masses through museums, parks and similar endeavors. It's a path she started on as a history undergraduate at St. Vincent College.

“It was my professors at St. Vincent who introduced me to the field and showed me that I could do so much with a history degree,” she said.

Tim Kelly is one of those professors.

“Pam is a terrific student, so I think she'd be successful in any direction that she went in,” he said.

Going into public history requires two main skills, Kelly said: a passion for the past and the ability to impart that passion to others.

“Pam has those qualities. She's very bright. She has a deep interest in history and a big interest in sharing that with people,” he said.

At the National Air and Space Museum, Curtin works with the public at the observatory and the “design hangar,” where children can create their own airplanes out of craft supplies and test them in a wind tunnel.

She's sat in on meetings as officials plan out the next decade of exhibits at one of the nation's foremost museums and has met renowned members of multiple industries.

“We're surrounded by so many interesting people. You can meet an astronaut sometimes, and there are so often scientists coming in,” she said.

She said meeting Patrick Forrester, a NASA astronaut who has spent more than 950 hours in space, was one highlight of her time at the museum.

She's helping her supervisor, Tim Grove, chief of museum learning, research and write a book about how museums can make exhibits interactive to better engage the public.

“As a native Pennsylvanian, I'm so pleased to have Pam as an intern this summer. She has been a tremendous help with several writing projects I'm working on and is an excellent writer who demonstrates great attention to detail and a thoughtful grasp of the history field,” Grove said.

Though her time at the museum is ending soon, Curtin keeps busy back home. She's a volunteer at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector and runs Stardust Photography in Latrobe.

When she graduates with her master's degree, she hopes to find a job with a park or a museum.

Wherever she ends up, she knows she'll keep her love of history and science, and she hopes to share it with the world.

“There are just so many stories that are just so fascinating,” she said. “I think anyone can find something historical that's of interest to them.”

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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