History department’s Swigger honored for work with ‘Journey Stories’

Jessie Swigger, assistant professor in Western Carolina University’s Department of History, has been named a recipient of the North Carolina Museums Council’s Award of Special Recognition for her work in support of “Journey Stories,” an exhibit that was on display at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center for six weeks last fall.

Jessie Swigger

Jessie Swigger

Swigger partnered with the Mountain Heritage Center staff and served as co-grants writer and co-project director as the staff prepared for and hosted the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, which tells the story of migration and mobility throughout American history.

In conjunction with the “Journey Stories” showing at the Mountain Heritage Center, Swigger led her public history students in creating a series of exhibits focusing on local “journey stories” for display at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva. Swigger’s three-semester cycle of classes provided real-world experience for her students in exhibit research, development, fabrication, installation and evaluation, said Pam Meister, curator at the Mountain Heritage Center.

During the fall 2011 semester, Swigger’s students worked in teams to gather ideas for the local exhibits. Five proposals chosen for implementation were developed by students during the spring 2012 semester, and last fall students provided installation, interpretation and evaluation for the local exhibits, which were on display from mid-August through mid-November.

Swigger’s students also led tours of the “Journey Stories” exhibit and the library exhibits, presented programs for K-12 school groups, and served as support staff for a dozen public programs held in conjunction with “Journey Stories” project.

“Jessie’s efforts in support of the Smithsonian’s ‘Journey Stories’ exhibit were exemplary,” said Scott Philyaw, director of the Mountain Heritage Center. The exhibits created by her students were viewed by more than 30,000 library visitors, Philyaw said.

Meister said all the Mountain Heritage Center’s partners agreed that the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and hard work demonstrated by Swigger’s students were an important part of the project’s success. “The students’ extraordinary learning experience was made possible by Jessie’s total dedication to the project,” she said.

Swigger said she appreciates the honor from the North Carolina Museums Council. “The ‘Journey Stories’ project fit perfectly with WCU’s focus on engaged learning, as well as with the Quality Enhancement Plan,” she said.

“This project succeeded because so many different groups were committed to the partnership – the history department, the Mountain Heritage Center, the Jackson County Public Library and, of course, the students,” Swigger said. “It was particularly exciting to watch students take ownership of their projects and gain confidence about their abilities to make history come alive for a variety of public audiences.”

Swigger’s award is scheduled to be presented Monday, March 25, at the 50th annual meeting of the North Carolina Museums Council, but she won’t be able to attend. The due date for her first child is the same day. She will be represented at the meeting by four of her students – Sonrisa Crespin, Elyse Yow, Kayla Pressley and Nelson Edmondson. The students, along with Peter Koch, educational associate at the Mountain Heritage Center, will present a program for the council audience about student involvement in the “Journey Stories” project.