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The door to opportunity

Undergraduate student Kelsey McKinney describes her Harry Ransom Center internship experience and how a poet’s typewriter led her there.

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Each year the Harry Ransom Center hosts undergraduate interns sponsored by various programs and departments at the university. For 201213, four Ransom Center-sponsored undergraduate intern positions will be added. Students don’t need to be affiliated with any particular program or department but must be full-time undergrads. Application materials are due by April 9 to the center’s third floor Administrative Suite.

In this essay, undergraduate intern Kelsey McKinney discusses her internship experience at the Ransom Center.

Kelsey McKinney

Undergraduate intern Kelsey McKinney with the authors’ door at the Ransom Center.Photo: Pete Smith

I fell in love with the Ransom Center at first sight.

It was my freshman fall semester at The University of Texas at Austin, and my English class visited the Ransom Center to view Anne Sexton manuscripts in the reading room. In addition to the manuscripts, we saw Anne Sexton’s Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter. That typewriter showed me that the Ransom Center is a diverse place with hidden gems to discover.

As an undergraduate intern, that belief has only been confirmed.

I began working at the Ransom Center in August 2011. At the time, The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 19201925 exhibition had recently opened, and I was offered the opportunity to work on a related project with the Ransom Center’s own authors’ door.

The door, located deep within the fifth-floor stacks, began as a tribute to the Greenwich Village bookshop door. Since the 1970s, visiting artists and writers have been invited to sign the door. As of today, the door has 212 signatures. I began a project to document all of the signatures, many of which verged on being illegible. Having horrible handwriting myself, the match was ideal. I spent hours with the door, and it allowed me to interact with author archives and Ransom Center staff. The work was exciting and fulfilling. Each time I deciphered another signature was just as exciting as the first. Today 206 of the 212 signatures are identified.

There are so many collections and so many incredible projects to take on that there is something for everyone here. More than any specific project I have worked on during my time as an intern, I value most the knowledge I have gained through interaction with Ransom Center staff and scholars. Each day here, I learn more. As an intern in the public affairs department, I have researched and written blog posts. For these, I have learned from the Ransom Center collections and holdings. That knowledge, though, is only the beginning.

Ultimately, the benefit of working with intelligent, interesting and passionate people is that they share those passions willingly. I have learned about the evolution to digital photography, how to conserve a decaying book, how exhibitions are formed and how collections are organized. Every person at the Ransom Center is a person to learn from. The greatest testament to this, I believe, is how unmanageably tall my book stack has grown during my time here. The tasks and projects I have completed have improved my writing and research skills, but it is the level of intelligent, jovial and interesting conversation that has taught me the most.

The University of Texas at Austin not only provides an excellent education for its undergraduate students, but also works to couple that education with compelling undergraduate experiences. Ideally, these experiences encompass the core values of the University: learning, freedom, discovery, leadership, individual opportunity and responsibility.

My time at the Ransom Center has developed within me every one of those values. I have learned more than I could ever describe, discovered dozens of new authors, encountered new ideas and was granted the freedom to enjoy every step of the process. This undergraduate experience is one I would never trade.


Experience More

Watch a video about the undergraduate visitor at the Ransom Center:

This essay and video originally appeared on the Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog.

Home page banner photo: Undergraduate intern Kelsey McKinney stands among some of the Ransom Center’s manuscript collections. Photo: Pete Smith. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.