From nature to human nature — Karsen Koah’s internship at Carnegie Museum of Natural History takes her into a new direction.

Karsen Koah  with the Education Department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
From L to R: Karsen Koah, Laurie Giarratani—Assistant Director of Education, Lindsey Scherloum—Museum Educator and Karsen’s mentor and Mandi Lyon—Program Development Coordinator

How does a high school junior go from wanting to be an anthropologist to a psychologist?  By trying it out in an internship first. This is one of the many advantages of the City Charter High School. Students are able to get a taste of the career they’ve dreamt about, before spending all that time, effort and money to decide on something else down the line.

According to Karsen Koah, “The internship program is an amazing opportunity for everyone at City High. I also like Career Class because it makes you think about where you want to go before you get there.” 

Karsen started out with wanting to pursue Archeology/Forensic Anthropology, making her internship at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History a natural choice. She worked in the Education Department developing materials for the Climate Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP), a grant-funded partnership devoted to developing an array of activities to spur thoughtful discussions about predicted effects of climate change in the city and strategies for adapting to such change.

Karsen Koah, City Charter High School Senior develops strong communication skills while  helping  people learn about climate change in a cool way.

According to the Museum’s program development coordinator Mandi Lyon, “CUSP tabletop activities are hands-on interactive experiences that pull people into thinking about and having conversations about solutions to climate change problems in their area.” Karsen helped out in a unique way, making exhibits more relevant to a younger audience. Karsen recalls, “I created mind maps (a skill she picked up at City High) that show air quality and the relationship to climate change in Pittsburgh. After I finished that I started working on a video project that also helps people learn about climate change in a cool way.”

Karsen’s work on the Air Pollution Plinko game and video helped her to examine how people of different age groups learn and take in new information all while developing her communication skills.

Karsen’s passion morphed from the study of nature to human nature and she will attend the University of Pittsburgh—Johnstown in the fall for  Psychology. Karsen has also taken something else from her internship at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (besides work experience and a clearer course for her future). She also got a glimpse behind the scenes at the museum where the rare bones are kept, including skulls, tusks and mammoth dinosaur bones. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” she says “and working with all these lovely people at the museum shaped me to become more of a leader and to not be afraid to speak out in a group and share my ideas. No idea is a stupid idea!”

Karsen Koah not only demonstrated but helped to create and maintain a unique game Air Pollution Plinko that would prompt people into thoughtful discussion on air quality.

One of Karsen’s mentors at the Museum, Laurie Giarratani, sums up the internship best, “We consider ourselves a place for learning. It’s also a place for high school students to get some job experience.  And for us to have a chance to gain some high-schooler’s perspective on our team.  That’s just really valuable.” So everybody wins.

Karsen agrees, “Communication was one of the skills I got from my internship experience, I was constantly working with people. Flexibility is another skill because when you try and work on something and it needs revisions, you have to be flexible and make those changes when needed.  Time management is another skill that has strengthened for me because you need it so you can get the things that you need to get done on time.”

According to Lindsey Scherloum, Museum Educator and Karsen’s mentor, “We love working with City High. We’ve been so impressed with how well connected it is to the student’s curriculum.”

In addition to her internship, Karsen took a summer class at CCAC in psychology. As she did research toward her senior project exploring the motivation of serial killers, her interest in psychology kept growing. “I wanted to know why criminals do what they do,” she revealed. “So my grad project had a huge role as well in the career direction I am taking.”

About the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Considered one of the top five natural history museums in the country, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History gained prominence in 1899 when its scientists unearthed the fossils of Diplodocus carnegii, one of the largest dinosaurs every exhibited. Today the Museum’s dinosaur collection includes the world’s largest collection of Jurassic dinosaurs and its Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibition offers the third largest collection of mounted, displayed dinosaurs in the US.

But natural history is more than dinosaurs. So as the Museum evolves for modern times, other contemporary issues facing the planet are on display.

“Our Education Department is responsible for a range of facilitated programs here at the museum, including school programs and partnerships, developing educational opportunities (grant-funded partnerships) plus field trips and summer camps for kids,” according to Mandi Lyon, program development coordinator. “We also have a number of learning research partnerships where we work with leading scientists from the University of Pittsburgh. We’re doing experimental projects to explore how people learn. We have a project that’s focused on climate change education (CUSP). We have another that is looking at the skills needed to explore nature and what does it mean to be a naturalist in the 21st century. We are probing what are the innovative ways we can engage people.”

To learn more about the CUSP project, click here