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Orientation and Training February 17, 2010

Posted by Conventioneering in Job Get!.
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Yesterday, I went in for orientation. This involved going to the Smithsonian Enterprises office, which is right by L’Enfant Plaza station. This time, there were other people about, ranging from about three who were my age to a few in their mid thirties and even late forties. The recruitment guy met us there, took our IDs, and then came back to usher us into the orientation meeting.

First, a note about names: in this blog, for the most part, I’m going to try to refrain from using anyone’s name in order to preserve their privacy.

Moving on…

The orientation meeting was what you would expect. It wasn’t boring – the recruitment guy has a fantastic sense of humor and such a passion for what he does that even  discussion of mundane fiddly things like what to do in case of harassment or shoplifting was entertaining.

First, we went through what the Smithsonian’s mission statement is:  “The increase and diffusion of knowledge.” It’s for this reason that the Smithsonian museums don’t charge admission – well, that and federal funding and from donations from people who share this philosophy. All the same, it’s a decree which the Smithsonian not only adheres to but pursues with gusto unmatched by any other institution that I know of. We have the largest museum and research complex in the world, consisting of nineteen (soon to be twenty!) museums, none of which charge admission; nine active scientific research centers, and a plethora of people working in all fields, from cultural and historical studies to aerospace engineering. The Smithsonian isn’t just museums, it’s cutting edge research into saving endangered species, it’s education through bringing people to the world and the world to the people.

It’s this statement, this commitment to knowledge which made me consider being an employee. Yes, I’m just a humble sales clerk, but I’m part of the system, I’m part of this wonderful, amazing machine for learning.

After that, we discussed various aspects of the Smithsonian, such as how it was founded (by a man who had never set foot in the US), the aforementioned statistics about how many museums there are, and so on. We looked into how the Smithsonian is actually funded, and where our pay actually comes from. Smithsonian Enterprises, the division I work for, is actually a division of the larger Smithsonian Institution. Our deal is commercial ventures –the Smithsonian Magazine and the Air and Space Magazine, the Smithsonian Channel, Smithsonian Journeys and Smithsonian Student Travel, and, of course, the various Smithsonian Stores. The money our division makes is only a tiny percentage of the Smithsonian’s overall funding – the vast majority of it comes from tax dollars, so, thank you very much fair citizens of this noble United States of America for your generous contributions to our institution. The second largest contributions come from private and corporate donors, such as Lockheed Martin, whose name graces the NASM’s main Imax theater.

What the revenue from Smithsonian Enterprises actually does is… well, anything it needs to. Government or private funding is funneled into specific projects – for instance, when Mr. Udvar-Hazy makes a donation, his money goes straight to the Stephen F Udvar-Hazy center in Virginia. The Native American Museum can’t take any of that money for its own projects. Money from Smithsonian Enterprises, however, can go to the National Museum of the American Indian if it needs to.

Employees of Smithsonian Enterprises get our pay straight from there. Not a dime of your tax dollars goes into my paycheck – everything I make comes from things like sales of freeze-dried ice cream (our second best seller at NASM. I’m not sure why – I don’t really like the stuff myself…).

Then we went into the goodies we get. Even employees who are seasonal only (and thus don’t get benefits like retirement or health insurance) get fun stuff, like discounts. We get discounts at all the restaurants and all the stores owned by the Smithsonian. In my case, this means I eat lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian as often as I can. It’s a little pricey (even with the discount) but locals all agree that of the Smithsonian-owned restaurants, it is the best. You can’t really beat plank salmon, buffalo burgers, or, my personal favourite, fry bread (fried dough with honey. Mmm!) We also get perks like one free Imax movie a week… which isn’t so much an option as it is a requirement. As museum store employees, we need to know what’s going on in the museum, so that if someone asks us “Hey, I have three small children, which movie should I take them to?” and we can say “Not Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, it’s probably too intense; but One World One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure at the Einstien Planetarium has muppets and is really fun.”

But the thing I appreciate the most is pretty mundane – a monthly stipend towards my commuting costs. We have to be super careful with this: if we take out too much and use the money to do things that aren’t work related, we can get our privileges taken away. On the other hand, commuting can cost up to $40 a week for me (I come from VERY far outside town), which is almost $160 a month, so the stipend is a real life saver.

Then we got into stuff like what to do about workplace harassment and shoplifting, the details of which I won’t go into, since they’re not all that interesting. Suffice to say, neither of which is stuff we tolerate.

Next… paperwork.

So much paperwork.

It’s expected, really. Even if we’re paid by revenue generated by the museum stores and not tax money, we’re still technically a government institution. Paperwork is par for the course. I worked through it at my usual slow pace, actually taking the time to read everything I was given, carefully calculating my tax exemptions, and finished slightly late but without errors.

The recruitment manager asked me to stay after, and then addressed the three of us that were left.

“You’re all here because you’re permanent  employees…”

I frowned a bit, then raised my hand.

“I’m not a permanent employee. I’m a seasonal full-time employee.”

Apparently there’d been some minor confusion and miscommunication. It wasn’t a big deal in the least, and the recruitment guy took care of it very quickly. Which gave me an opportunity to talk to him alone.

“So,” I said, “I’ve always wanted to write for the Smithsonian Magazine, but I’ve no idea how submissions are handled…”

He told me that they mostly take freelancers, and said that he’d email me with information on how to submit pitches in short order. Score. Of course, I have absolutely no idea what sort of story I’d actually try to tackle, nor do I think I have the time, and finally who am I kidding? The Smithsonian is one of the most respected print magazines in the country, they’re right up there with National Geographic.

But I can dream, and I at least have the information on hand.

The last thing I did was get my timecard, and an apology from the recruitment manager about how I wouldn’t get my ID card for a few days yet because of the snow. Four feet of snow tends to screw up your schedule for this sort of thing.

I then walked down the street to the museum itself and met with my manager, who gave me my schedule. She was going to have me part-time, but I requested to be moved up to a full time position. I will be working Wednesday through Sunday – totally fine with me, as I don’t do much on the weekends anyway. None of my friends live in the area, so what would I do on the weekends? To tell the truth, probably visit the museums anyway. And… that’s probably what I’m going to be doing on my days off.

The day was finished at about 2:00, so I took the time to take some photographs of the Lunar Exploration Vehicles, the Space Race, Milestones of Flight, and America by Air before leaving. I’ll try to post these up at a later date.



1. Nate - March 9, 2010

There’s just something about the idea of dried-up ice cream – especially when coupled with the idea of SPACE! – that sparks a fire deep in the heart of your typical third-grader. And no, it definitely has nothing to do with the taste.

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