Bringing the Hill to Capitol Hill
For the past five summers, Mark Dimunation ’74 and Philip Moeller ’63 have given St. Olaf students the opportunity to pursue hands-on learning opportunities in Washington, D.C. Watch Charles Mathison ’18 share his experience, and read about Harrison Clark ’21 below.
Imagine spending a summer at the Library of Congress working among books and documents deemed too valuable to reside on regular library bookshelves — items such as Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Harry Houdini’s scrapbook collection, Martha Washington’s Bible, the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated, a Shakespeare First Folio, and the Gutenberg Bible.
That was the life of St. Olaf College student Harrison Clark ’21 this summer.
In fact, that has been the life of St. Olaf students for the past five summers who have traveled to Washington, D.C., to dive into some of the oldest and most important documents in the history of the United States as part of a hands-on internship with the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.
In the immersive experience in Washington, D.C., Clark spent the summer at the largest library in the world, where he was folded directly into the staff of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division, participating as an employee while simultaneously working on an individual project within the division.
“Working at the Library of Congress was a surreal experience. Every time I thought I had seen everything there was to see, I’d open a door to the stacks and be completely amazed,” says Clark. “With a badge, I was also able to explore it all.”
This experience for Clark, and other St. Olaf students before him, was made possible by the chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division, St. Olaf College alumnus Mark Dimunation ’74, who generously sponsors the internship. The St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career organizes and oversees the internship program.
“I’m in charge of the largest rare book collection in all of North and South America. It’s an extraordinary privilege, and also a challenge, with a great deal of responsibility in being accountable for the remnants of people’s lives and experiences,” says Dimunation.
“My work in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division isn’t just about Thomas Jefferson and famous documents,” he adds. “It’s also about ordinary men and women in the midst of the abolition campaign, the suffrage movement, and the crossing into the Trans-Mississippi West. These are important stories, and it’s a great privilege to be able to keep those stories alive and to make sure that they are transitioned to another generation.”
By establishing the internship program, Dimunation is supporting a generational transition that will enable young people like Clark to hold these roles.
“The Library of Congress teaches you what it wants to teach you,” says Clark, a French and music major at St. Olaf. “One of the fantastic yet terrifying things about working in a library is that you need to know a little about everything. Because St. Olaf focuses on a broad liberal arts curriculum, I was able to use my knowledge of history, philosophy, and writing every day to contribute to the division.”
With this experience, Dimunation hopes to expose students to possible career paths that are out there for Oles. “This internship gives students an opportunity to see what can happen to, in my case, a history major from St. Olaf. And that encourages them to be open and flexible about their plans for the future,” says Dimunation. “Sometimes the path that is most unexpected is one that leads you to an amazing career.”
“This internship gives students an opportunity to see what can happen to, in my case, a history major from St. Olaf. And that encourages them to be open and flexible about their plans for the future. Sometimes the path that is most unexpected is one that leads you to an amazing career.” — Mark Dimunation ’74
Clark says that learning from people as passionate about their jobs as Dimunation has been incredibly inspiring.
“Mark loves his job, and it’s obvious that he takes great pride in talking to researchers about every facet of the division’s collection,” says Clark. “His love for St. Olaf shows through too.”
Outside of their time working with Dimunation in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division, students also get the opportunity to develop an additional mentorship with another passionate Ole in D.C., Philip Moeller ’63. With this mentorship opportunity, students get to learn about Moeller’s career at the World Bank and gain experience cataloging artifacts in Moeller’s own personal collection.
“For me, the most important part of working with students always has been watching them learn and enabling them to learn,” says Moeller on mentoring students like Clark and Charles Mathison ’18, who worked alongside him the previous summer. “You’re enabling them to come up with a belief system that is meaningful to them. Even in the short time that I have with the interns in the summer, I can see how they grow, I can watch their excitement, I know that in many cases they’re contributing things that I may not have even thought about. So I’m learning along with them, which of course is what mentors should be doing.”
“St. Olaf can be a lifelong experience,” says Dimunation, as he reflects on his ever-continuing St. Olaf journey. “I’m thankful for the values that St. Olaf College instilled in me, and I like to think of reaching back to current students as an extension of that education forward. It keeps me in touch with St. Olaf but it also allows St. Olaf students to realize that there’s more to college than just the Hill itself.”