ELF Recipient Lands a Life-Changing Smithsonian Internship


Mae Casey received a student loan from the P.E.O. Educational Loan Fund (ELF) in fall of 2018 while she was pursuing a Master’s of Library and Information Science degree. Though Mae worked a part-time job and had received a graduate assistantship, the cost of her program was still a prohibitive $40,000. Melissa Bergeman, a good friend and colleague from the high school where they taught, introduced her to P.E.O. and ELF’s deferred payment structure and low interest rate of 2 percent provided just the assistance Mae needed. Melissa’s then Chapter EJ, Green Valley, Arizona, (now X, Tempe, Arizona) sponsored Mae’s application for an ELF loan. 

A successful teacher in Tucson schools for 13 years prior to returning to graduate school, Mae had a dream of working as a digital curator or preservationist at a university or archive. She researched options and discovered that the University of Arizona right in Tucson had an excellent library school.

To gain necessary experience, Mae volunteered at the Arizona State Museum, beginning as an intern then transitioning to a volunteer position. Her project involved uploading images of native peoples in traditional clothing into several online collections on the Smithsonian Learning Lab site. Through the Society of American Archivists, she was provided opportunities to collaborate with students and visit different archival repositories. University of Arizona Associate Professor Bruce Fulton served as her mentor, providing support and guidance throughout her program.

Mae did not know her most transformational opportunity was yet to come. She applied for and received an internship at the Ralph Rinzler Archives at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folk Life and Cultural Heritage Washington, D.C., an experience that made her feel “over the moon!” Her internship included life changing guidance from her supervisor, Cecilia Peterson. Immersing herself in the cultural activities available through the Smithsonian and the greater Washington, D.C. community broadened her perspective, giving her confidence to break into a new career field. Mae completed her degree in December 2019, earning additional graduate certificates in digital information management and archival studies. 

Following graduation, Mae completed over 30 applications. Her dreams came true when she was hired in March 2020 as the Curator of Collections at the 390th Memorial Museum in Tucson. The 390th Museum is dedicated to the Boeing B-17, known as The Flying Fortress and the men in the 390th Bombardment Group who valiantly flew this plane in WWII.

As the curator for the museum, Mae will establish and maintain the records of enduring value for the museum; alongside digital preservation work, care for the physical collection, the library and the archives also fall under her purview.

Mae spends three days per week on site working in collections. She has learned cleaning techniques and already begun a campaign to refurbish A2 flying jackets worn by the pilots of the 390th. 

For Mae, learning is a lifelong journey. She is grateful to Chapter EJ sisters and the P.E.O. Educational Loan Fund. Mae is excited she has found a position that uses her skills from both education and library science careers in a museum setting. 

Learn more about the P.E.O. Educational Loan Fund!

This blog post is adapted from an article in the September/October 2020 issue of The P.E.O. Record and was written by Mary Bormann, Past Chair, P.E.O. Educational Loan Fund Board of Trustees.