Steele Interns: Then and Now

Written by: Matt Kelly

The Hall of Fame is preparing to host some old friends with the upcoming reunion of all alumni of the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development this weekend. More than 95 former interns from the past 15 classes will be arriving in Cooperstown, as will Hall of Fame member – and Museum Education Ambassador – Ozzie Smith, who will share stories and wisdom with the former interns throughout the weekend.

The Steele Internship Program, founded in 2001, is a 10-week apprenticeship in which upper-level undergraduates and graduates receive on-the-job training in various departments of the Museum. Held during the summer months, the internship includes intensive hands-on work during the annual Hall of Fame Weekend and Induction Ceremony in July.

The reunion will offer a chance for these professionals – some just starting out, and others firmly established – to connect, catch up and reflect on how their summers in Cooperstown influenced their lives. We’ve caught up with a few former interns who shared with us the ways in which their Steele internship served as a major stepping stone toward their current careers, both in and outside of professional sport.

Finding Their Passion

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The location of the Steele Internship Program at baseball’s foremost history museum attracts the attention of many college students who want to work in the sports industry. But the term ‘sports industry’ casts a wide umbrella containing any number of different careers. For students, choosing a career path is often a fluid process; interests and desires can fluctuate, and hands-on training offered through the Steele Internship can help them see if a certain field is a good fit for them.

Sarah Wasser, a membership intern at the Hall in 2011, originally wanted to be a special education teacher before switching to communications studies at SUNY Brockport. She was thinking about shifting gears once again when she applied to the Museum.

“I realized that I loved working in sports and loved the atmosphere and the working family you develop, but communications just wasn’t for me,” Wasser said. “So a family friend suggested I apply for an internship at the Hall of Fame.”

“I was late coming in, but there was a spot open in the membership department, and I just totally took off from there.”

Wasser went on to perform a number of jobs in both sales and communications with the New York Red Bulls soccer team, the New York Yankees and minor league clubs in Lakewood, N.J., and New Orleans before finding her current home at Fenway Sports Management in Boston as a design coordinator. She said her stops at both the Museum and in minor league baseball helped her try just about everything, and to form a sense of what she liked and didn’t like. Her summer in Cooperstown assured her that she wanted to remain around the baseball diamond.

“After being unsure that I still wanted to be in the communications field, it was really helpful for me to go there and fall back in love with baseball and decide that yes, I want to work in this industry,” Wasser said.

Molly Becker was a programming intern last summer who recently began her job as a programming and membership coordinator at the St. Louis Cardinals Museum and Hall of Fame. Becker is in charge of quite a bit at the museum, from adding new members to designing bobblehead giveaways to coordinating school group visits and home game programming at Busch Stadium. The St. Louis native said she couldn’t envision being in her current role before coming to Central New York.

“I was just looking forward to being in Cooperstown and didn’t know right away that it would lead to a career in sports,” Becker said. “But when I got back to St. Louis, I immediately began looking up if the Cardinals had a similar programming position. They didn’t initially, but the position I have is brand new this summer and I feel as if they designed it just for me. It’s a perfect fit, and I didn’t know I even wanted to work in that field until it was presented to me in Cooperstown.”

Outside the Lines

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The offices of both professional and minor league baseball teams are peppered with former Steele interns, from ticket sales to photography to the top levels of public relations staffs. But not every intern used his or her Cooperstown experience to launch a career in baseball – or even sports as a whole.

In retrospect, letting us navigate the process and figure tasks out on our own was really the best way to learn.

Erica Flanagan, Class of 2010

Andy Zides was a sophomore at Quinnipiac University when he called the Museum just as the Steele program was getting off the ground in 2001.
“I had played baseball in college, and I knew I wanted to work in either professional baseball or education,” Zides said. “I contacted the Hall of Fame just to see if they hired interns, and lo and behold they were starting this brand new internship program.”

Zides worked in the Museum’s Giamatti Research Center, answering visitors’ questions about baseball history and giving them access to the Library’s books, photographs and newspaper clippings. Calling it “one of the greatest experiences” of his life, Zides said the internship helped him realize his professional calling.

“I’m a very empathetic person, and I love helping and educating people,” said Zides. “It was pleasurable for me to do things for people and make them happy.”

Zides did gain more experience in baseball after Cooperstown, as an intern for the Pawtucket Red Sox and temporary employee for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After Tampa, however, Zides drew upon his budding passion for helping others to switch careers. After earning his master’s degree in education from UMass-Boston, Zides now works as a director of special education for The Home for Little Wanderers, a Boston-area non-profit that provides human services for displaced children.

Erica Flanagan came to Cooperstown in 2010 as a graduate student with a desire to broaden her skill set. Flanagan had earned her master’s degree in information science and learning technologies from the University of Missouri-Columbia, but was looking to gain more experience beyond the traditional library science field of paper and photo archives.

“My co-intern and I were given complete autonomy with processing the collection of items from baseball games,” Flanagan said. “I had never worked in museum collections prior, so I struggled at first, but my co-intern had some experience and helped guide me. In retrospect, letting us navigate the process and figure tasks out on our own was really the best way to learn.”

After her internship, Flanagan struggled at first to find work in a harsh economic climate where archival jobs were often cut first. After landing a job as an assistant curator and archivist for the Schenectady County Historical Society in New York, she was recruited by Anheuser-Busch to work as an archivist at their headquarters in her hometown of St. Louis.

“Processing museum collections certainly added some new and valuable experience to my resume,” Flanagan said. “In fact, most of what I process now at Anheuser-Busch are 3-D objects. Also, giving artifact spotlights helped me improve my public presentation skills. I do presentations on A-B history to a lot of new employees, wholesalers, and Global Management Trainees, and that first impression of myself, as a representative of the archives, and company history is vital to them remembering that we're a resource they can consult in the future.”

One Big Family

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In addition to all the valuable professional lessons they learned, all of the former interns we talked to said one of the things they enjoyed the most was the camaraderie they formed with each other in just 10 short weeks.

“I consider the other interns and my supervisors to be very dear and special people in my life,” Zides said, while Wasser added the she cherished the “sense of family” at the Hall.

And the family extends beyond just the interns and Museum employees.

“I loved working with the visitors and giving tours in the Plaque Gallery,” Becker said. “We had all these special events for the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech and the tours were extremely popular; they were definitely one of my fondest memories.”

As these former interns re-visit and reclaim old friendships this weekend, the process of adding more young professionals to this family is just beginning. Applications for the 2016 Steele Internship Program are now open to students who have just completed their sophomore year of undergraduate school, or have just graduated in May 2015.

For those who are thinking of applying, these former interns advise doing your homework: Research both the Hall of Fame and the Steele program thoroughly, just as you would before entering any job interview. And, if you’re one of the lucky few who are accepted, make the most of your summer in “America’s Most Perfect Village.” Those 10 weeks fly by fast.

“Take notes and immerse yourselves in the wonderful variety of sessions and programs offered to the interns, but also remember to have fun,” Flanagan said. “Go to baseball games with the group, take day trips on the weekends, and make traditions like ‘Ice Cream Fridays.’”

Wasser added that the most important trait you can bring is energy.

“As long as you have the experience and you’re willing to put in the work and time – and have the energy and enthusiasm to work in this industry – you will go far,” she said, “regardless of what your school or your background is.”

Matt Kelly is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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