That’s OK, when UofL alumna Kate Sowada was chosen to manage and drive the 300-square-foot Kentucky HistoryMobile across the state’s 120 counties, she was more than willing to add that last credential to her already impressive, diverse list.
“Don’t worry, we’ll send you to school,” was the response, according to Sowada. So now, having earned her commercial driver’s license and multiple degrees and certificates, she maneuvers the Kentucky Historical Society’s 45-foot-long trailer to urban and remote spots to bring history’s lessons close to students, including those who might not otherwise get to visit a museum.
Kentucky State Fair visitors can check out the HistoryMobile in the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center’s South Wing B Aug. 14 to 24. Destinations for the mobile learning lab recently included Sowada’s alma mater when the Kentucky Junior Historical Society met at UofL and Westport Middle School, where it was part of the Summer Flight enrichment camp that UofL’s College of Education and Human Development offered with Jefferson County Public Schools. The HistoryMobile currently offers a graphic-novel look for its latest exhibit “Torn Within and Threatened Without: Kentuckians and the Civil War Era.”
Beyond artifacts from the KHS collections, touch screens throughout pose questions that are meant to engage visitors and to indicate the significance of individuals’ decisions and their effect on history. “It’s really trying to get the kids to think critically,” Sowada said. The target audience is students in grades 4, 5 and 8 who are studying state and U.S. history, as well as the general public.
As coordinator, Sowada also is in charge of HistoryMobile logistics – the scheduling and mapping of the semi’s visits, which happen from March to November; she also works with the KHS exhibits team.
“I’ve been on the road a lot,” she said. “People’s reactions to seeing me driving the truck – that’s hilarious.”
The road to Sowada’s state job was a winding one also. She left a banking career about five years ago to return to school. Trading on a lifelong interest in museums, she said she was attracted to UofL’s offering of both curatorial studies and public history.
In 2012 she completed a master of arts in art history with a concentration in critical and curatorial studies, as well as certificates in public history and in Latin American and Latino studies.
While in graduate school at UofL, Sowada had an internship at the New Albany, Ind.-based Carnegie Center for Art and History, one of the members of UofL’s Center for Arts and Culture Partnerships. Other internships took her to Preservation Louisville and to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, now her employer.