Out West student blog

An insider's guide to museum work at Yellowstone

a woman hangs art on the wall of a museum at Yellowstone National Park
Jas Wheeler installs a photograph exhibit illustrating the history of transportation in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Alyssa Kudray.

Jas Wheeler, '25
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Area of Study: American Studies
Intern, Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center

Jas Wheeler navigates the challenges presented by historic flooding and explores the day-to-day of museum work

After two years of remote work, I was more than ready to get outdoors working in-person at Yellowstone for my Bill Lane Center internship. I looked forward to hiking to Old Faithful, driving through Montana, and enjoying the fresh Rocky Mountain air. Then, two weeks before my start date, I got news that seemed insurmountably devastating. A once-in-five-hundred-years flood ravaged the north of the park, where I was supposed to live. My heart was broken for Yellowstone. I thought that, if my internship wasn't altogether canceled, it would have to be completed from my bedroom in Georgia. 

Thankfully, my supervisor in the park worked with me through this challenging situation. After some rapid-fire communication, I ended up housed right next to my job in lovely Gardiner, Montana. Employee roads allowed me access to the park. My summer was still on, albeit understandably altered by this historic event. 

My job here has helped me to refine my future career plans. Before entering my position, I had the vague sense that I was interested in museum work. After all, I love historical research and narrative interpretation, so the field fit my interests well. However, I didn't know the first thing about what day-to-day museum work was like. Worse yet, I wasn't sure how it differed from archival or archaeological work. Now, with eight weeks of experience behind me, I can explain what museum work is like for me at Yellowstone. 

This summer, I have been designing a virtual exhibit which explores the history of transportation in Yellowstone. This topic is expansive. To make the topic more approachable for visitors, I have to make executive decisions about what to include. I am exploring this history by dividing it between different groups of people who travel through Yellowstone - from tourists to Native American Tribes to park rangers. Each category is broken up into chronological subcategories. 

Each exhibit section contains personal narratives with which the audience can identify.  To illustrate the stories that my research uncovers, I include a variety of museum items. For instance, when discussing the U.S. Cavalry's administration in the park, I present excerpts from a cavalryman's diary. I also include pictures of his saddle, housed in museum collections, so audiences can better envision what they're reading. 

Outside of exhibit design, I help maintain and display the research center's collections. Projects include making blueboard and ethefoam containers for wolf skulls, providing tours of the facility to visitors, and helping to clean the artifact storage center. My favorite job was installing an exhibit at the Museum of the Park Ranger. I positioned vintage food containers, cards, and uniform items to create a model ranger barrack. 

In my free time, I have enjoyed exploring all that Montana has to offer. As an avid student of Western history and the National Parks, I have enjoyed driving to locations like the Garnet Ghost Town and Glacier National Park. When I'm not road tripping, I take in local culture as well. Highlights include local trivia and attending the Hell's-a-Roarin Guts and Glory Rodeo. I greatly enjoy the quiet and scenic pace of life in Montana, and will miss it dearly once my position ends.  

Recent Center News

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Advisory Council Member Nancy Pfund and colleagues author a new paper exploring the benefits of prescribed burns, highlighting how new technologies in wildfire mitigation, vegetation management, and forestry can help prevent catastrophic fire. The paper also investigates how a variety of innovative funding models could be harnessed to dramatically scale the ability to use prescribed burns safely and effectively in the future.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Kapelow

Every year, the Bill Lane Center awards a $5,000 fellowship to support a journalist illuminating crucial issues about the American West. We are proud to announce Brandon Kapelow as our 2023-2024 Western Media Fellow, and the publication of new work by last year's fellow, Janet Wilson.