A Summer at the Museum: D'Maia Curry '19 Practices Passions at the Smithsonian

Dmaia Curry stands in front of an elephant at the museum.

As a child, D’Maia Curry ’19 became fascinated with museums after a field trip to Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in the first grade. However, visiting museums in Atlanta was expensive, so Curry had to wait until she was a junior in high school to visit the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. It ended up becoming a memorable experience because Curry worked as a volunteer and got to interact one-on-one with visitors.  

Fast forward a few years and Curry is wrapping up her summer internship at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Working in the Smithsonian’s mineral department, Curry, a geology major, is part of a project that combines both mineral sciences and paleobiology. She is studying Precambrian rocks, searching for magnetic fossils of bacteria that lived a billion years ago.

As an intern for the Smithsonian Institute (SI), Curry has special privileges that she, as a lover of museums, is wholly taking advantage of: “Having a [Smithsonian] badge is really cool. You don’t have to go to the line to wait. I went to the new African American museum and I was able to get in because I work here, and I’ve been to a lot of really cool talks that are for SI staff only like an SI talk at the American Indian museum on volcanoes in Hawaii.”

“This internship has given me the opportunity to interact with so many people visiting the museums,” says Curry who is interested in a career where she can help increase public engagement with museums. 

Curry’s interests are varied: As a child, she had a rock collection, but her first real introduction to geology was when she first came to Pomona and got to study volcanic rocks the summer right before school started. This was part of the now-defunct High Achievement Program (HAP), a four-week summer program for students interested in the sciences and research.

During her second year at Pomona, she loved Professor Robert Gaines’ Earth History class – it’s the reason why she’s now a geology major. As she’s taken more classes in the major, she has seen how history and science combine in exciting ways, and she’s thinking about attaining a future graduate concentration in paleontology. Curry continued doing summer research in the sciences the summer before her sophomore year but opted for something different this summer.

Living across from the Pomona College Museum of Art, she attended one of their weekly Art After Hours events. “We made succulent terrariums and I thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool. I get to meet people, I get to do art and eat.’ So, Thursday became my favorite day of the week,” she said. Curry enjoyed it so much that she applied to work for the museum helping with those events. But she was also interested in the inner workings of the museum and applied for, and landed, a curatorial internship for the summer before her junior year, working with Kathleen Howe, director of the museum and professor of art history.

“That was really fun – it was my first job that wasn’t science-based so I had to reconfigure my mind, but it was really fun. I was doing a project that was completely my own and with Kathleen’s help, I got some direction.” Curry’s exhibition, “Establishing Justice: Selections from the Permanent Collection” ran during the Spring 2018 semester.

Curry also finds the hours in the day to practice another of her other passions, dance, which she started here at Pomona because her family couldn’t afford it when she was growing up.

How does Curry do it all?

“I’m trying to combine my interests: working at an art museum and doing research and also discovering different methods for understanding scientific concepts. Museums can be a way for people who don’t have access to certain scientific resources and might be more welcoming for those who don’t connect with science through the structures of formal education.”

And that’s an important centerpiece that drives Curry: how to make museums and learning more accessible to children and families who like herself are low-income or come from underrepresented backgrounds.

She points to her field of study: geology. “You see very few people of color and low-income students [in geology]. Growing up I didn’t go outdoors much, it was not something I was accustomed to and if it weren’t for HAP, I wouldn’t have considered geology as a major. It’s why I’m leaning so much into public outreach—why I find it to be so cool:  a lot of people don’t know what geology is and what it entails. Even though there are barriers, it’s still possible to access.”

“I just imagine museums as storehouses of knowledge, there’s so much there you can learn. They can offer you different ways of learning about the world outside of formal education. They can offer a divergent way of looking at the world and you can learn new and exciting information.”