From UTA Libraries to the Smithsonian and the Getty

Two student workers in UTA’s Special Collections land prestigious post-grad placements

Tuesday, Jun 16, 2020 • Devynn Case :

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Jessica Khazem (left) and Mya Lewis

Two members of the student staff in Special Collections at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries have received prestigious post-graduation placements for the summer of 2020.

Jessica Khazem received an advanced undergraduate scholar’s grant through the J. Paul Getty Foundation to conduct research at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Mya Lewis will participate in a virtual internship with the Smithsonian Institution as a curatorial assistant for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, focusing on their African textiles project.

“Jessica and Mya have done incredible work while at UTA Libraries, and we are proud of their many accomplishments,” said Brenda McClurkin, department head of Special Collections. “We know that they will make lasting contributions to the Smithsonian and Getty, as they have done with us.”

Khazem and Lewis earned Bachelor of Art degrees in Art History from UTA in May. They joined Special Collections in Fall 2019 as part of a Faculty Teaching in the Archives grant awarded to Leah McCurdy, senior lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, focused on scanning and developing metadata for the Franke collection of African maps.

The initial internships turned into more for both Khazem and Lewis. UTA Libraries funded an additional semester for them to assist Cartographic Archivist Ben Huseman in curating the exhibition of the Franke collection “Searching for Africa,” slated for Fall 2020, and to work with McCurdy for her course titled “Arts of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Jessica and Mya have grown immensely in their professionalism, time management, communicative clarity and confidence,” McCurdy said. “They both earned those honors. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish because these experiences have set them up to pursue very meaningful professional lives, bringing awareness to neglected artistic traditions, the value of cultural pluralism and the importance of the arts in our lives.”

Lewis’s first experience with Special Collections came when she was a student assistant in TRiO Student Support Services and asked to scan TRiO memorabilia photographs that were housed in Special Collections.

“That was my first experience working with primary sources,” Lewis said. “After I finished scanning these photographs, I visited the exhibition of the female cartoonist, Etta Hulme. I still have the souvenir pin provided to guests attending the exhibition on my backpack.”

Khazem came to Special Collections for the first time through the internship with McCurdy, and is grateful for the exposure it gave her to what Special Collections has to offer UTA students.

“As an art history student focused on nonwestern cultures, arts, and histories, the opportunity to work with an understudied nonwestern topic such as Africa was extremely valuable and supplemental for my education and interests,” Khazem said. “Working with Ben Huseman was especially valuable since he is an incredibly knowledgeable professional on cartography and history in general.”

Khazem says her experience working in Special Collections had profound effects on her overall experience as a Maverick.

“I have developed long-lasting and professional relationships both with some of the faculty in Special Collections, as well as Dr. Leah McCurdy and my colleague Mya Lewis, who I will no doubt continue to collaborate with on nonwestern art historic projects moving forward into our professional careers,” Khazem said.

Lewis concurs with Khazem, and says this isn’t the last time she will be in UTA’s Special Collections.

“This was an invaluable experience and I cannot wait to attend ‘Searching for Africa’ when it opens in the fall,” Lewis said.

Users can view the Franke maps that Khazem and Lewis have scanned in the Libraries Digital Gallery.

– Written by Alexandra Pirkle, UTA Libraries