Society & Culture

Student to intern with National Geographic

Sarah Riggs stands on top of the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City during her study abroad trip last summer.

University of Georgia student Sarah Riggs will be joining the National Geographic Society’s Human Journey Grants team as its first intern.

The Human Journey team focuses its research on cultures and cultural sustainability to learn more about who we are and what our future will be. The team focuses on a diverse range of topics, from extinct ancient grains and the sustainability of palm oil to climate change. Grants support projects studying human society and the trends in culture.

The new intern program is designed to provide students the opportunity to do real research and perfect their research process in a professional setting.

Riggs, a third-year anthropology student minoring in classical culture at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, started on this journey her junior year of high school when her A.P. language teacher asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, “I don’t know, but I want something that involves travel, reading and writing.” He suggested anthropology. After looking up careers in anthropology, Riggs was hooked.

“One year ago, I was in a visual anthropology class with Dr. [Julie] Runk. In the beginning, they asked us ‘Why do you want to take this visual anthropology class, what do you want to do in the future, what are your goals?’ I said I want to work for National Geographic. And a year later, I have this internship,” said Riggs.

Riggs said she has the supportive faculty of the anthropology department to thank for her success. Assistant professor Jennifer Birch read Riggs’ resume over spring break to make sure it was ready to submit to National Geographic. Assistant professor Christina Joseph’s cultural anthropology class helped prepare Riggs for the internship with a final project that went through all the stages of planning field research, including finding funding. The department also hosts a mentoring program that pairs undergraduate and graduate students.

“Over the past year I have had the pleasure of watching Sarah create the future she envisions for herself, and she is so successful at it, I often feel our roles should be reversed,” said Louisiana Lightsey, Ph.D. student and Riggs’ graduate mentor. “Her curiosity about culture and history, her love for the natural world, and her communication skills are inspiring. National Geographic is very lucky to have her, and I think this internship will be a great springboard for her.”

There will also be an “intern-swap” where Riggs will exchange positions with an intern from a different nonprofit in Washington, D.C., to get a well-rounded understanding of how nonprofits operate.

Two weeks into her internship, Riggs will have the opportunity to meet with and speak to current explorers. The National Geographic Explorers Festival provides an opportunity for participants to give lectures and presentations about their research.

After graduation, Riggs plans to take a year off before pursuing graduate school in Europe. She hopes to leverage her time at National Geographic into a position making documentaries for the BBC