Idaho interns flaunt Gen Z activism at Idaho Historical Society

The teens have taken over. Don’t worry though, this is no 1930s pulp plot.

Organized by the Idaho Historical Society’s “Guide, Engage, Mobilize” interns, the “Teen Takeover” this month opened “We the Teens,” the culminating exhibition after over six months of effort from 10 Treasure Valley participants.

Led by intern leader and museum education specialist Paige McCoy Niendorf, students from Boise, Kuna, Meridian, Caldwell and Middleton crafted an exhibit to educate their peers and the larger community about how the Gen Z generation coalesces to create communities and cultivate change in Idaho.

“We wanted to connect our own surroundings with Gen Z students in clubs across the world,” GEM intern MJ Gissell said. “Teens in Laos, North Africa, Bosnia.”

Gissell paired with fellow intern Abigail Jenkins on the “Connection” panel, one of four themed parts that make up “We the Teens.” Set to the left and just down the steps from the Idaho Historical Museum lobby, the exhibit collects together several display boards that all fall under subtopics of the overall theme of change and community – action, preservation, empowerment and support.

Beginning in November 2022, students developed months of guided activities and research, first figuring out their “Big Idea,” and then dividing it into sub-genres via “Know, Feel, Do” — what interns know about a topic, what they feel and what they want to do about it. “Connect,” for example, describes how the people in Idaho connect together and with the Gen-Z generation, a topic important enough to Jenkins, a graduated senior from Mountain View High School, that she put together an exhibition that aspires to illuminate.

“I wanted to shine a light on the minorities that are not always talked about or featured in Idaho,” Jenkins said.

Highlighted on a purple and orange background, the “Connect” placard describes and displays photos of Hispanic Latinx and LGBTQ+ people in the Gem State. There is also a graph that breaks down the rising identification of LGBTQ+ people over descending Idaho generations. This visual aspect was key for Jenkins’ inclusive perspective.

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“A picture is worth a thousand words, right?” Jenkins said. “I wanted to show how these communities feel and express themselves. This helps express new attitudes in the state, the new residents who are here and helps these people to feel validated.”

This display and the larger GEM internship has helped Jenkins to solidify the decision to major in history and culture humanities when she begins at Boise State University in the fall.

“I love history and human creation. I love to see how much the past affects the present day. It’s so cool to see people’s interests as they spread throughout time,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ perspective describes one of the main goals of the GEM program: to build skills to prepare them for the future.

“Our focus isn’t only on growing the museum and history field, but to develop skills that will be helpful in any career moving forward,” McCoy said.

Tracking down local news stories about change makers and community impacts through local networks, breaking news, social media and interviews sharpened research skills. Drawing on their own experiences helped strengthen intrapersonal connection while working together developed team work, project management and interpersonal communication skills.

“I wanted to take the perspective of, ‘How would my friends feels when looking at this?’” senior Joanna Sanchez said.

The exhibit title is a riff on “We the People,” the theme of the upcoming 2026 “America 250” celebration from the American Association of State and Local History.

Constructing exhibits required practice and improvement of a number of key abilities, which students learned in concert with exhibit designer Bryan Rich and Nicole Inghilterra, curator of collections and exhibitions. Inghilterra taught interns how to gain permission to utilize artifacts like Chapstick, buttons and T-shirts for museum displays.

Display titles are blocked out in blue pen on torn cardboard — a nod to the organic, guerrilla nature of many movements and protests. The warm orange and purple display colors invite viewers in while offering a sly nod to Instagram, a social media app native to Gen Z kids. The white, readable font showed students how to use visual strategies to convey a clear message. And Inghilterra guided interns in writing exhibition descriptions — a very different type of exposition than academic work.

“The GEM cohort have never done this type of work before and may have only engaged with museums through field trips,” McCoy told EdNews. “With this background, it is always so impressive what these interns accomplish. They did an amazing job.”

Visitors can view the results at the Idaho State Museum through Monday, Sept. 11.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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