CHADRON – Throughout the fall semester Sarah Polak, director of Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center, was active helping create exhibits and scheduling events designed to teach the public about history.
Polak believes museums are powerful educational resources.
“Studies have shown, museums teach history better than things such as TV and books, because in a museum there is actual physical history. They call it the power of object, and it revolves on the importance of being able to see something tangible and understand it,” Polak said.
Polak traveled to Harrison, Nebraska, in late August, with Laure Sinn, Rangeland program coordinator, to help coordinate western Nebraska exhibits at the Sioux County Historical Society Museum. The displays combined materials and history from the Coffee Family Ranch, near Harrison.
According to Polak, successfully collaborating with local museums has multiple purposes.
“We are a resource to the region as well as contributing to the mission of Chadron State College, so representing and furthering that role is important,” Polak said.
During the first two weeks of August, Polak traveled with education majors to multiple historic locations to gain understanding about the importance the sites can have in teaching social sciences.
Karen Enos, an education professor at CSC, and her Elementary/Middle School Social Studies Methods class (EDUC 323) joined Polak on trips to the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte and the Scotts Bluff National Monument. The class also visited the Sandoz Center.
According to Enos, the goal of the field trips was to show the educational benefits of a museum to students aspiring to become teachers
“Today’s museum directors plan wonderful, educationally rich, often interactive, displays. Pre-service teachers need to know about these rich community resources. Museum exhibits bring to life the topics children are studying in the classroom,” Enos said.
Polak also traveled to the 63rd Annual Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA) Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Oct. 23-27.
According to its website, the MPMA is a regional organization of museums and museum professionals that advocates excellence in the field, provides a forum for communication between its members, and shares creative learning opportunities with the region’s diverse audience.
At the conference, Polak presented on mentorship for mid-to-late career professionals, along with a workshop on label design.
“Label design and organization in a museum may seem like a subtle topic, but really it determines how presentable, readable and accurate a display or exhibit is,” Polak said.
Whether speaking about exhibit collaboration, educational opportunities or organizational nuances, Polak is adamant about the valuable role of a museum.
“Museums are important, not only for education, but for recording our history in an accurate and compelling way,” Polak said.
—Conor P. Casey, Graduate Assistant