Smithsonian Internship Enables Grad to Preserve Historical Sites With Data


A dream internship with the Smithsonian Institute is where non-traditional student Jennifer Larsen ’20 has put her degree in the Integrative Sciences to work.

When she’s not balancing the homeschooling of her two boys and managing a personal disability, Larsen is virtually assisting the data collection in the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, a collaborative project with FEMA aiming to geo-map lesser known historical sites throughout the United States.

In the case of natural disaster or emergency, these geolocations provide location data for FEMA that allows a more efficient response to affected areas that would otherwise not be on their radar.

“It’s like being Indiana Jones from the comfort of my own home,” said Larsen. “Even from behind the scenes, the work I’m doing is going to indirectly save a historical site or even lives in the case of natural disaster. It’s very rewarding to me.”

Larsen works 10-hour weeks from her computer, combing through data and splicing it together to create an elegant mainframe for the Smithsonian’s coding process.

“I get to see some pretty interesting data that is pulled from the pool we’re using,” said Larsen. “Someone led us to a giant statue off the side of the highway in Oklahoma. Nobody would’ve ever known this existed. If you’re ever looking to see a huge statue, that would be your place. We’ve also gotten Indian burial grounds, abandoned museums —the list goes on.”

The effort in collaboration with FEMA not only preserves historical sites throughout the U.S. but maps lesser known locations that are susceptible to natural disaster and may not know to reach out to emergency organizations for help in case of such.

“When we had the storm surges in Louisiana, there were places unknown to FEMA that suffered great, catastrophic losses,” said Larsen. “We don’t want anything like that to happen ever again. That is the whole point here.”

Since beginning the internship in the Fall of 2020, Larsen has graduated with her degree in UCF’s online Integrative Sciences program, something that she points to as the revival of her academic passion.




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