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A summer well spent: Byrd Center interns curate Mollohan collection

By Staff | Aug 2, 2019

From left, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education summer interns Abigail Ayers, of Bethany, and Michael Mastrianni, of Charleston, relax after the end of the center's annual intern fundraiser on July 22. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — “The intern system is absolutely valuable, but completely unfair. The answer is not to abolish internships, but to raise money to fund them. It’s only fair. The kid who has to make a living by waiting tables can’t do an unpaid internship,” said journalist and George Washington University professor Steve Roberts, during the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education’s annual fundraiser for its summer internship program.

Steve and his wife, journalist Cokie Roberts, were the evening’s special speakers, and although they had accepted the speaking invitation before they knew the fundraiser’s recipients, Steve said they were pleased to know the funds were going to a worthy cause.

“When we accepted this, we didn’t even know it would be used to support student internships,” Steve said. “As a professor, I know that every one of you is making a huge contribution to these students’ futures.”

During the catered dinner following the event, Robert C. Byrd Center Director Jay Wyatt announced that the evening’s efforts were a success.

“I’m pleased to announce we’ve raised enough money to pay for next summer’s internships,” Wyatt said.

Former U.S. Representative Robert Mollohan's collection has been curated into the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education this summer. Tabitha Johnston

For this summer’s interns, Abigail Ayers, of Bethany, and Michael Mastrianni, of Charleston, the news was exactly what they were hoping to hear. The two senior historic preservation majors have spent their summer archiving items from the collections of former U.S. Representative Robert Mollohan, a Shepherd University alumnus, and his son, former U.S. Representative Alan Mollohan.

“They together served between 1969 and 2010, consecutively,” Ayers said. “Alan took Robert’s seat, so that’s pretty interesting, and they worked with Senator Byrd.

“There’s a large variety of things in their collections, but most of it is papers, speeches, project papers, correspondence and Congressional papers,” Ayers said. “There are cool things — international gifts, water from the top of the world, Robert’s Apollo 11 certificate, keys to many cities and special edition fiestaware — it’s West Virginia made! The list goes on-and-on.”

Between the entrances to the center’s auditorium was placed an exhibit of the collection, showcasing some of the collection’s highlights. But the highlight for the evening, according to Mastrianni, was meeting Alan and his son, who attended the evening’s events.

“We got to meet the guy whose papers we’ve been weeding through all this time — I sat next to him!” Mastrianni said. “We’ve seen so much of his collection, so we’ve seen a side of his day-to-day life in Congress. It’s so interesting to know him from that angle.”

For both of this summer’s interns, whose 400-hour internships were paid for by last year’s fundraiser, the archiving experience will be an asset in preparing for their future careers.

“I want to get my doctorate in history, so I can teach on a university level,” Mastrianni said. “As a professor, I can use this to inform my teaching on archiving.”

Ayers said she plans to use her archiving experience as a basis for her future career pursuits.

“After I graduate from Shepherd University, I plan to lean towards the archivist path, or a museum path,” Ayers said. “I would like to get a master’s degree in museum studies at some point. My ultimate goal would be working in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

“Things I’ve definitely gotten out of this internship, are a new understanding and appreciation for the present and past history of Congress,” Ayers said. “It’s given me a fresh way to look at the past, which is the way historians need to see history.”