Piecing Together History

Sara Biegelsen interns at Poplar Forest

It was a day like any other for Sarah Biegelsen ’17 as she sorted through objects unearthed from an archeology site near Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s summer home near Lynchburg.

But that day held a surprise—a discovery that would become one of the most memorable parts of her spring internship. Biegelsen noticed something different about a piece of metal pot or kettle and showed it to her supervisor, who noted the similarities between it and another larger piece that was in a show box.

Sara Biegelsen interns at Poplar Forest“So I fidgeted the edges around until there was a match—like doing a puzzle,” she said. “I did the same thing with another piece from the container and found another match. That was definitely the most exciting thing that happened at my internship!”

The metal container, which may have belonged to the former president or one of his family members, was one of the many 18th-20th century items Biegelsen examined from the museum’s north hill archaeology site. Being able to connect multiple pieces from the site was an unusual experience.

Some of the other recovered objects included metal paraphernalia like keys, locks, ox shoes, and buckles. In addition to analyzing and archiving each item, she took photos of them to include in the museum’s digital collection.

The internship at Poplar Forest, which has a community partnership with Randolph, was Biegelsen’s fifth. Over the course of her college career, she has interned for the national World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, the National Park Service at Fort Pulaski in Georgia, the Friends of Rivermont Historical Society in Lynchburg, and the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission in Washington, D.C.

Guidance and other support from Randolph’s Career Development Center helped Biegelsen gain this important practical experience outside the classroom. A history major, she was one of the first recipients of Randolph’s Jolley Mini-Grants last summer, which helped cover living expenses during her internship in Washington, D.C.

“The Career Development Center helped me find internships, and they helped me prepare for interviews and spice up my resumé,” Biegelsen said. “Also, the Jolley Mini-Grant is amazing. It gives you the freedom to actually live in a city that you don’t live in, and it’s not just enough money to survive. It gives you enough to go to events and out to dinner every now and then.”

Another important part of her experience at Randolph has been the personal and professional connections she has made.

“It’s no wonder people come to Randolph for its close-knit community,” Biegelsen said. “I love the professors here, and I like being a big fish in a small pond because there are more opportunities. I could easily join any club, and I’ve had all these work study opportunities and five internships. The fact that it’s so personal is really admirable.”