Meet the Museum: New Frederick S. Upton Fellow!

September 14, 2017 9:01 pm Published by

Tell us about yourself!

Hi, my name is Alicia Risk, and I’m the new Frederick S. Upton Fellow for the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center! I am currently a first year master’s student at Western Michigan University studying Public History. Originally, I am from Hastings, MI, but I have lived in Kalamazoo for the past 4 years. Recently, I graduated from WMU in April 2017 with a B.F.A. in Theatre Design and Technical Production program, focusing in Costume Design and Construction.

What is the Frederick S. Upton Fellowship?

It is a competitive scholarship offered by the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, which is based here in St. Joseph. Graduate candidates of the History program at Western Michigan University are usually funded through teaching assistantships or specialized research grants, but as the recipient of this fellowship, my education is generously funded by this opportunity, which is one of the reasons I wanted to attend Western for my master’s work.

This Fellowship is tailored for students like myself who are studying Public History, and are not necessarily seeking academic employment as their career.  It gives me the opportunity to get real-life experience working in a local museum, while graciously allowing me to earn my graduate degree.

Alicia Risk working in Western Michigan University’s Theatre costume shop, building a textile based set for their 2017 production of Deborah Breevort’s Women of Lockerbie.

How did you end up in history if your undergraduate degree is in Theatre?

My lifelong love of theatre landed me in Western’s theatre program, where I studied the design and construction of historical fashion. Midway through my time in the theatre department, I found myself being increasingly more interested in historical fashion: specifically at the turn of the 20th century era. Opportunities arose where various theatrical productions required historic costumes, and as a stitcher in WMU’s Theatre Costume Shop, these productions enabled me to explore both researching and re-constructing historical fashion.

Soon after I caught the historical fashion bug, I learned of the Public History field, and all the vast opportunities it could offer to me. After researching programs across the country for Public History, Textile Conservation, and Fashion History, I determined that Western Michigan University’s program fit my career goals. I applied to the Public History program and I’m lucky enough to now be the Frederick S. Upton Fellow here at the Heritage Museum!

Alicia Risk at her summer internship for the Paper City Mill Works company. She worked as the intern for the company redeveloping a 1905 Rag Paper mill in Vicksburg, Michigan, where she researched the history of the building to create a historical photography project.

What is Public History?

In a nutshell, Public History is any study or pursuit of history that is not specifically meant for academic purposes. This is a wide field, ranging anywhere from doing historical work in museums, being a historian or archivist for a private company, working for the National Parks Service or other government agencies, and many more.

Our main focus and audience in the Public History field, as one might guess, is the public, and we study ways to best bridge the gap between academic historians and consumers of historical information. One of the goals within the field is to ensure that the information flowing to the public is both factually correct and engaging, whether the information comes from a museum, a historic site, a series of informational signs in a historic downtown, and numerous other methods.

As a public historian with a theatre background, one of my professional goals is to utilize theatre as a means of delivering historical knowledge to the people. I believe theatre, film, and other forms of media have an important role in educating the public, and I aim to be involved in that role.

What are you most excited about with working at the Heritage Museum?

I am most excited to gain more hands-on experience working at a local museum like this, especially with learning the processes of how this kind of museum functions. It’s incredibly important to me to be engaged in the community I live in, and institutions like the Heritage Museum are so valuable. I am also looking forward to learning more about this part of Southwest Michigan. My time here, I hope, will help me grow as both a historian and as a Michigander, and I can’t wait to see where this Fellowship takes me!



If you have any ideas or questions you’d like to see in a future blog post, please email Alicia at, or call (269) 983-1191. If you’d like to keep up with our future blog posts and other museum news, like us on Facebook to get notifications and updates!