By Katie Cukerbaum, Friends of the THC Development Manager

Today’s students are tomorrow’s preservationists, and ensuring a future workforce of passionate individuals is vital to the future study of our past. The Preservation Scholars Program, administered by the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission (FTHC), was created in 2007 to build interest in historic preservation careers, specifically among students who identify as members of underrepresented cultural and ethnic communities. 

Over the course of the internship, students work under the supervision of Texas Historical Commission (THC) staff at the agency’s headquarters in Austin or in the field at historic sites to complete an active THC project of their choosing. Students meet with staff in each of the agency’s divisions and attend weekly brown bag lunch presentations with non-THC preservation professionals and experts to learn about the important work happening across the state and beyond. 

The Preservation Scholars Program offers the FTHC the opportunity to engage students from underrepresented ethnic and cultural backgrounds in the THC’s work, from a focus on the economic impact of preserving a rural community’s heritage, to building the digital presence of state historic sites, to assisting regional organizations with cemetery preservation.

Additional projects that students have worked on over the last 14 years include: 

Texas Historical Markers and Undertold Markers Programs

Picture of a group of people
Preservation Scholars have assisted with the THC’s Undertold Markers program, which recently commemorated Leah Moncure of Bastrop (right), the first woman in Texas to be a licensed professional engineer (1938). American Society of Civil Engineers.

Interns are responsible for processing applications for Texas historical markers and Undertold markers, researching and synthesizing the information submitted by applicants, and writing more than 100 marker inscriptions over the period of the summer internship. 

Writing and Editorial Projects

Students research and produce web content and blog pieces for the THC’s Communications Division. Past articles have focused on cultural themes like German historical sites, Hispanic heritage sites, and African American sites. 

Texas Main Street Program 

The Texas Main Street Program supports Texas communities in the preservation and revitalization of historic downtowns and commercial districts. Students have worked on various projects in this program over the years. A few examples:

• An architecture student worked with the historic Elm Street district in Waco to design streetscapes and restored facades for the neighborhood and the district. (2017)

• An architecture student worked on a series of adaptive reuse proposals. These included the development of temporary “pop-up” retail establishments in Houston’s historic Emancipation Avenue neighborhood to generate economic and community development in the area. (2019) 

• Two students worked on the restoration of the Jamison Building in Texarkana, and also on a related oral history project. The students presented the research and recommendations from this project to the Texarkana Main Street program. (2020)

Cemetery Preservation Program 

In 2019, a student worked on developing a cemetery preservation resource guide for volunteers to use within their own communities. This resource is used by the Cemetery Preservation Program at the THC in its work with communities across Texas. 

Archival Catalog Project 

Picture of a green book
Preservation Scholars assisted with cataloguing Austin sites for a guide about The Negro Motorist Green-Book. Photo: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

A student interested in library sciences and archeology worked on a project to update the agency’s system for archiving and cataloging collections and preparing them for digitization. This work was done pre-COVID-19, and thankfully positioned the THC to more easily access and offer collections virtually to educators, researchers, and students. 

The Green Book Research Project

This project involved cataloging and creating a visual guide of sites across Austin that were part of the original historic “Negro Motorist Green-Book.” The student selected a list of sites in the Austin area, did in-depth research on these sites, and created a visual aid that can help educators, students, and history enthusiasts learn more about these sites, many of which are gone. 

The FTHC is honored to have the support of the Still Water Foundation, the Fondren Fund for Texas of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Sally Anne Schmidt and Marc Tabolsky, Renee Rupa Dutia, and many individuals who have donated to this program in memory of José Contreras for the 2021 Preservation Scholars Program.