An Intern's Perspective on His Experience at OSA

Post Date: 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

by Zach Altman, Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa

My name is Zachary Altman. I’m an archaeology major in my senior year at Cornell College. Last year I was asked to figure out how I would go about completing original research to fulfill my Capstone Experience requirement for graduation. After talking to Dr. John Doershuk (who was teaching an Introduction to Archaeology class that I was in at the time) and my advisor Dr. John Gruber-Miller, I decided that the best way for me to complete this would be to take part in an internship at the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) in Iowa City. So, for the first month of this semester (Spring of 2015) I am interning at the OSA.

At the time of writing this I am at the end of my first week here at the OSA and so far I have learned a lot. I have spent most of my time here helping go through the backlog of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data. What this means is that I have been trained to read archaeological site reports, pull information from those reports, and then map the exact location (within a 14 meter error range) of archaeological sites. While this does not sound as glamorous as field work, this is none-the-less super important as careful record keeping of site locations is essential for archaeological studies. Also, the work I have been able to do with the OSA’s GIS has provided me with skills that will eventually help me find employment in the coming year after graduation. 
Colleen Eck and Intern Zach
Zach and Colleen Randolph (Site Records Manager) working on I-Sites.
Now, working on the computer is not all my internship is about. As I mentioned before I am here to complete my Capstone Experience, which means I need to write a 10 page original research paper. To this end, I will also be working closely with Mark Anderson and Dr. Melody Pope to examine some lithic debitage associated with a hearth feature from Western Iowa. From this I will be gaining experience in the basics of lithic analysis and hopefully the ability to complete the statistical analysis associated with this kind of work. Overall, my experience here, while brief at this moment, has been really great. I have been welcomed with open arms by Mary, Colleen, Nick, and Elizabeth (the full-time employees here at the OSA who work on the computer and public outreach side of things) and have also gained an added bonus that I never expected. I am here Monday-Friday from 9am-4:30pm for the rest of this month, and as such I’m getting a feel for what a full time job will feel like, which is an experience I did not anticipate prior to starting my internship.
I hope that my experience here will encourage others to seek out the opportunity to take part in internships here at the OSA. For those who are considering it I highly recommend to message any of the staff members as they are all super friendly and always looking for an extra set of hands to help out and teach.

Note from Elizabeth

At the OSA, we always appreciate working with students from Cornell.  Their "One Course At A Time" curriculum - taking one academic course per three-and-a-half-week block - allows the students to really immerse themselves in the internships for full work days and weeks. This solid chunk of time commitment gives OSA archaeologists a more structured timeframe to work with and allows the students to get into the flow of a short and concise research project. But, even if you don't have 3.5 weeks of solid time to commit, there are still opportunities to get involved!  We schedule volunteers and interns based on project needs by individual archaeologists and the ability of those archaeologists to supervise. We do not often have volunteer fieldwork opportunities, but when we do, you can find them announced on our Facebook page. Office-based volunteer opportunities during normal business hours involve artifact processing and other lab work, GIS and sites database work, computer programming, and education/outreach program and materials development. Contact for more information.