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Designing Her Own Programs: Jessica Hogbin Gains Museum Experience Volunteering at Watts Museum

Jessica Hogbin is a Freshman WVU student studying history. She has become involved with the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum as well as the History Club/ Phi Alpha Theta in her time on campus.

Jessica HogbinWhen I started my freshman year at WVU, I thought volunteering would be an obligation that I would dread. For the first few weeks of college, I found myself volunteering at any place with the time for me. I bounced around from location to location, not really enjoying my volunteer activities, mostly because they weren’t related to my passions. One day, a Facebook post crossed my dashboard that announced The Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum was looking for volunteers. Because of my love for history—especially that which affects my home state of West Virginia—I decided to begin volunteering there.

watts museum

The Watts Museum’s current theme is “Man Power/Mine Power,” which deals with coal mining, its technology, the people who mined, and the history surrounding those topics. As a West Virginian, I had some basic knowledge about coal mining before coming to college. I gained even more experience with this topic by taking HIST 200: Practicing History with Dr. Gorby. This course greatly enhanced my knowledge and abilities on the study of history, but it also explored the lives of coal miners and the struggles they faced.

During this spring semester, I have volunteered for nearly fifty hours in collaboration with The Watts Museum. Thanks to the opportunities that the museum provided me, I also had the chance to design several weekend events for the museum to help spread community awareness of the museum and attract more visitors. With the help of professors, high school teachers, and Pinterest, three events involving some of my ideas were put on the museum calendar.

he first of the three events was a decoder quest, meant for people around the eighth grade to enhance the standard museum experience. It went rather well and I was even interviewed by the local news station!

watts museum

If I thought the decoder quest did well, the rug making event held nearly a month later was spectacular. With nearly fifty children showing up to learn how to make a rug out of up-cycled t-shirts, it felt like there weren’t enough hands to go around at times. The activity showed how wives of coal miners reused fabric materials. When clothes became worn, torn or holey, they could be turned into rugs, as spending what little money coal miners had to buy an expensive rug made little sense when you could make one on your own.  The rug-making project demonstrated how coal mining families had to be self-sufficient and represented the work of women and children.

The success of the spring events so far has brought me a great deal of joy and pride. It is so nice to see people’s smiling faces at an activity you designed and feel the satisfaction of an activity that has been well put together. Hopefully, the Touch-A-Truck Event on April 14th will be just as successful, as it is expected to be the largest of all the spring events. For more information, check out The Watts Museum’s Facebook page.

Volunteering at The Watts Museum has given me opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined when I responded to the online request for volunteers. I have been able to use my skills as a history major to design events and help make museum visits more enjoyable for both children and adults alike. This experience has been more than just a way to amass volunteer hours on my résumé; it has given me experience in what it means to practice history as I simultaneously dedicate my free time to the residents of Morgantown and to the students at WVU.