Kim Sheahan met the love of her life on a sixth-grade field trip to the World Heritage Museum on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. Captivated by the artifacts, each one a messenger about an ancient civilization and a faraway land, Sheahan decided that she would work at the museum someday.
Sheahan earned a bachelors degree in history and classical civilizations and a masters degree in history at Illinois and began fulfilling her childhood dream through an internship at the museum, which was then tucked away on the fourth floor of Lincoln Hall. After obtaining an interdisciplinary masters degree from the University of Idaho in museum studies, education and special education, and working at the museum in various capacities over several years, Sheahan left the university for a few years to gain further teaching experience in public schools but returned to the museum in 1998. She is now the museums special events coordinator and assistant director of education.
What did you find so intriguing about the museum when you came here as a sixth-grader?
That these were the actual objects that somebody held in their hands, objects that held importance for them, that told about who they were and where and when they came from. The fact that I just wasnt reading a book or looking at pictures. I understood how this place works and why people want to come in and be able to touch everything thats here: because its touching other people and the way that they lived. Its a very exciting thing. When that connection is made, when the thing behind the glass is no longer foreign in all of the aspects of that word, thats when the magic happens, thats when weve done our jobs.
Are there any collections or artifacts here that especially appeal to you?
Whichever group I happen to be working with at the moment becomes the most significant, the most important and the most wonderful because in working with it, Im learning about it.
What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
The variety of it and that Im meeting so many people, not only people from all over the world but people who have so many different jobs and aspects of what I do that I connect with. There are so many opportunities to learn. I know more about more places in the world than Ive ever known before. My knowledge is slim at this point, but Ive got that excitement to expand what I know and be able to say when somebody asks me a question, I just read something about that and it was really cool, so if you dont mind, for five minutes Im going to talk about it.
We just brought people in from PACE to talk about making the museum accessible to people with disabilities, such as giving a sighted tour to a person with low vision and having to describe what a gallery is like. Just having to say, "Youre walking into a space right now that looks like a courtyard or a temple" has given me a new perspective and caused me to think about these spaces in a different way.
How have you kept the museum "alive" for five years while its been closed as you prepare for the new building?
It's all been outreach. We go out to schools, civic and fraternal organizations. We continued our Saturday Safari childrens program and holding special events out in the community. We maintained collaborations with the seven other museums in Champaign County and have done programs at their venues. We tried to keep our hands in things even though there was not a building for people to come into.
Thats part of my job making sure that people know were not just a small museum thats just for the university: Were for everybody.
Whats been wonderful is that even though weve been closed for almost five years, the excitement is still there: Members of the community have still been calling to say they cant wait until the building is open. On those days when were working the 80-hour weeks and were just exhausted, to have somebody call up and say that, thats when you walk out the door and say: Im doing a good job. Im where I want to be, doing what I want to do.
What pastimes do you engage in?
I work part time as a professional storyteller, presenting the stories that have been passed from generation to generation around the world, for local organizations and at special events and regional festivals. I am currently president of the C-U Storytelling Guild.