Alamance Community College is bringing a nationally recognized Smithsonian Institution exhibit to its campus—virtually. “Water/Ways” seeks to educate middle schoolers and the public about the natural resource of water, locally focusing on the Haw River. that features trivia, contests, and video activities for all.
Supported financially by the NC Humanities Council, the Smithsonian exhibit is valued at $350,000. The grand total of the project comes closer to $450,000 when additional grants, ACC’s contribution, and manhours are factored in.
Although a Smithsonian exhibit will be installed on the ACC campus for students, COVID-19 restrictions prevent the public from visiting.
The restrictions also hinder Alamance-Burlington Schools eighth grade students—the chief audience—from coming to ACC to participate. Instead, the exhibit and accompanying activities have become virtual for ABSS eighth grade students and teachers throughout February. Repurposing the event into a virtual experience rests almost solely on the shoulders of ACC instructor Sherri Singer.
Singer, Department Head for Social and Behavioral Sciences, is a history instructor and this year’s recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award. Currently a finalist for the state award, she previously worked with ABSS to bring hundreds of students to campus to interact with World War I Centennial Exhibit and last year’s Women’s Suffrage Centennial experience.
“I just knew we could make this work for the kids,” said Singer, who estimates she has spent nearly 500 hours over the last two years to bring the Smithsonian exhibit to Alamance County. This included field-testing the activities with ACC’s History Club students last fall.
“Normally we have the students do activities in person but the pandemic stopped that,” explained Singer. “Our solution was to create an activity booklet, similar to one we did for the Women’s Suffrage exhibit. This one is going to be much more detailed and inclusive so that the kids can do activities at home while also learning online with the virtual exhibits and activities.”
Another crucial component of making the Smithsonian exhibit virtual was bringing in business partners, said Singer. The grant required and heavily encouraged the college to create partnerships. This became even more important once the project became virtual.
“Our primary business partner has been Carolina Biological in Burlington,” said Singer. “They loved the idea of promoting science to students. All our sponsors and ABSS are craving interaction and promotion. For example, our Historic Sites Trivia nights filled in less than 24 hours because they jumped on board to be part of something successful and educational.”
Area sponsors include the NC Humanities Council, Carolina Biological, Alamance Battleground, NC Historic Sites, ACC Foundation, The Scott Family Collection, Alamance County Public Library, Haw River Museum, and Meals On Wheels.
Perhaps the most exciting element of the entire project was the opportunity for ABSS students to use technology in the creation of their video projects. A separate Smithsonian grant funded “Stories Yes,” a video storytelling initiative that has resulted in 138 ABSS students submitting Haw River-related videos that will become permanent fixtures on the Smithsonian website. Assisting in the technical aspects was Erik Perel, Department Head of ACC’s Advertising and Graphic Design department, who used a $25,000 grant to create an online module for the kids to make their own videos.
“This was an extra benefit for the kids because they can use these videos as an addendum to their future college applications, giving them a really nice credential,” said Singer.
The College will offer trivia to schools during their class times, but also offer it free to the public at night. Links will be forwarded to teachers and via social media to attempt to reach as many people as possible.
The community is invited to participate virtually in all events, including the large number of the public who are members of the Alamance Battleground and Pottery communities. Singer has 600 adult activity books and is seeking venues in which to distribute them to senior citizens, in particular.
ACC’s Smithsonian Water/Ways Exhibit January 26-March 5. The public can follow and participate in many of the activities on Facebook at WaterWays at ACC.