SALEM — As Jessica Barry pored over journals, sometimes 300 pages per day, she was swept into the awe that gripped early polar explorers as they discovered the magnificent uncharted landscape.
Barry extracted quotes from the journals and correlated them to paintings now featured at the Peabody Essex Museum to build an interactive Web experience that complements the new exhibit, "To the Ends of the Earth, Painting the Polar Landscape."
"Reading the journals of all the expeditions I read some really cool stuff," said Barry, 21, a senior at Endicott College who is a fall intern at PEM.
"It gave me a whole bird's-eye view of what exploration was like in the 1800s and 1900s, and it's great that (my work) will be a permanent fixture on the Internet."
The museum offers paid internships every semester to local high school and college students, ages 16 to 21, in an array of departments, such as graphic design, collections management, exhibit construction and merchandising.
"It's really designed to give students access to the museum's world," said Whitney Riepe, a PEM spokeswoman.
As an intern in the Maritime Department, Barry worked on "Polar Landscape," which just opened on Saturday. She said her college doesn't offer maritime history, so her semester at PEM has been a boon that she relayed with excitement.
"History is more than just facts," said Barry, of Beverly. "History is an experience, and it's truly mind-blowing what these explorers, scientists and artists contributed to the wealth of what we know of the North and South poles."
From marketing to membership
The Peabody Essex Museum's internship program, called the Museum Action Corps (MAC), employs up to 30 to 40 interns per semester. High school-age interns log 200 hours. College interns work 400 hours, which translates to a full-time schedule.
"It's a two-way street for the museum and the kids," Reipe said. "Our students are very qualified and get so much work done."
When viewing Barry's project on the PEM Web site, pem.org, one enters through a porthole in which a polar landscape painting is bobbing in the background.
Sam Scott, associate curator of Maritime Art and History, has overseen Barry since she started in September. He said her work has been a windfall.
"This was a happy marriage," Scott said of the partnership. "I had this project coming up, and I knew I didn't have time to do what I wanted to do. Jessica was very helpful and useful to us."
The internship program is funded by Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations (ECHO), and many students hope it is a stepping stone to future employment. It pays roughly $12 an hour.
"I'm getting access to the museum and working with professionals who know a lot about graphic design," said intern Callie Atchue, 21, a senior at Endicott majoring in graphic design.
As a PEM intern, Atchue has designed a large membership-mailing postcard that features 362 images — representing the 362 days the museum is open annually. It features photos of artwork, exhibits, historic houses owned by PEM and events at the museum.
"It's been great," Atchue said. "I've learned about branding, and I attend the marketing meetings every week."
"We've had some success stories," Reipe said of MAC interns who have gone onto employment at the museum.
The interns have also been working collectively to design and build a Web site for the MAC program and are working in teams to shoot film, record testimonials and built the site.
"People say, 'There's a position available at a museum,' and you think, 'I'll just be standing next to a painting or a sculpture,'" Barry said. "This internship has enlightened me."
The internship application requires two letters of recommendation and a school transcript, according to intern Elisabeth Buell, who has been working in the museum public relations department this semester.
"They're looking at your overall experience and what you can contribute to the museum," said Buell, who lives in Salem and attends Simmons College in Boston.
"The experience is awesome," Barry said. "They're always very accommodating and respectful."
Not to mention, it's fun for the students to peek behind the scenes and behold sites the average person will never see.
"You get to go to the basement and see all the artifacts," Barry said with wide eyes, "and did you know there are three in-house kitchens?"
Want to apply?
Peabody Essex Museum internship applications for the spring semester are due this Sunday, Nov. 16. To apply, contact Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, MAC internship coordinator, at 978-745-9500, ext. 3217, or by e-mail at rosario firstname.lastname@example.org.