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Preserving History

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mary Elise Grassmuck builds a berm to contain irrigation water at San Juan Farm near Mission San Juan Capistrano. The project was part of her field work with the San Antonio Missions National Park during her 10-month internship.

Internship at Mission San Juan Capistrano provides young alumna ideal experience for planned career aligned with National Park Service

by Mary Denny

Mary Elise Grassmuck '14, B.A. History

Mary Elise Grassmuck is getting her hands dirty, and she is more than happy to do so. As a cultural resource technician completing a 10-month internship at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Mary Elise is helping develop a historically accurate demonstration farm at Mission San Juan Capistrano. "We plant the same crops and use the same irrigation system that the mission residents created in the 1700s," she explains. Much of her work involves difficult manual labor. "Not exactly what I expected for my first job out of college," she admits. Nevertheless, she predicts the experience will be invaluable throughout her career.

Mary Elise GrassmuckThe internship, granted by the Student Conservation Association, is interdisciplinary and allows her to work with many different divisions within the National Park Service. In addition to her fieldwork, Mary Elise also develops educational material for the park's interpretive program and monitors some of the park's natural and cultural resources. Recently, she was a group leader for the Preserve America Youth Summit, a weeklong camp for middle school and high school students to learn about historic preservation, heritage tourism, cultural resource management, and the problems professionals in these fields face. The students may then provide recommendations to leaders within the community about how to better engage their demographic in a profession that has generally ignored the youth perspective. "This was an awesome experience," she says, "because it was the first time any of these kids had been exposed to this sort of material and their enthusiasm for the preservation of our heritage and the conservation of our cultural resources was inspiring."

Mary Elise's own interest in historical preservation was sparked by history professor Allan Kownslar's Texas history class and a field trip to the San Antonio Missions. Also inspired by history professor Carey Latimore, she is pursuing a master's in history with a concentration in public history at Texas State University, which she will complete next year. Her research focuses primarily on Texas history with particular emphasis on San Antonio's unique history. "I'm very interested in cultural resource management and the interpretation of historical sites," notes Mary Elise, "so this master's program is a good fit for me."

Trinity was also "a good fit" for this San Antonio native, who originally wanted to get out of San Antonio for college but found Trinity tailor-made for her. "I couldn't pass it up," she says. Besides igniting her passion for Texas history and launching her career path, Trinity also provided Mary Elise with a strong support network and opportunities to exercise her leadership skills through her affiliation with the Gamma Chi Delta sorority. She served the organization as historian and president and cherishes the relationships she formed with the group.

Concurrently with her master's program, Mary Elise is actively pursuing a permanent position with the National Park Service and hopes to begin this fall. Although her future goals include a Ph.D. in American studies, she envisions staying closely aligned with the National Park Service for the duration of her career.

Enthusiastic about the opportunities that organizations like the Student Conservation Association—Texas Conservation Corps and AmeriCorp among them—have for high school and college students and recent graduates, Mary Elise wants more people to know about them, pointing out that all of the opportunities are paid and most provide funding for future education or student loan repayment. "It was the perfect opportunity for me and allowed me to really give back to the region in a way that fit my particular skill set," she says. "Tell your friends, family, kids, and neighbors about it!"

Mary Elise can be reached at megrassmuck [at]