Starr Center’s new director of programs and experiential learning seeks to stretch boundaries with online engagement

By Cecilia Cress

Elm Staff Writer

The Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience welcomed Kacey Stewart in early February as the new assistant director of programs and experiential learning.

According to Starr Center Assistant Director for Communications and Outreach Amber McGinnis, Stewart’s position was recently redesigned to better fit the needs of Washington College and its students, as Stewart’s role has become more specialized and more experiential-learning oriented.

Stewart firmly believes in the positive impact this outside engagement has on students and the surrounding community.

“This is a chance for me to work in experiential learning and developing programs that really help students to engage with the material of American history, American culture, American politics, in ways that they don’t usually get to do inside the classroom,” Stewart said.

Stewart grew up near Chester County, Penn. He received his bachelor’s degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He then received a master’s degree in English at the University of Delaware where he later received his Ph.D. in English as well.

He currently lives in Kennett Square, Penn., where he works with the Starr Center team remotely. However, Stewart plans to move to the Chestertown area in March to join the team in person.

Before coming to WC, Stewart was an instructor at the University of Delaware for over three years. There he taught introductory classes in the Department of English.

Stewart decided to join the Starr Center because of his extensive background in environmental studies as well as his interest in colonial history and environmental literature.

“This was an opportunity for me to connect with students and to do teaching that more aligns with the kind of work that I’m interested in doing. It gives me the chance to create experiences, to run trips, and to make interesting opportunities for students to engage with the material,” Stewart said.

According to Stewart, he has always been passionate about teaching students how to apply their knowledge outside the classroom by connecting with the environment and historical sites.

“I always wanted this kind of position. I always imagined myself having students do historical readings and then taking them on canoe trips to places where those kinds of things happened,” Stewart said.

Stewart said he hopes to one day lead these trips when it is safe for more students to gather on campus.

While working remotely has lost “some of that intimacy” when collaborating, Stewart said he also acknowledges the positives in the Starr Center’s ability to “stretch our boundaries in other ways” with online engagement.

“It was awesome,” Stewart said, “We had over 100 people attend our first ‘Thursdays with the Starr Center’ series of events. We had over one hundred people there from all around the country. So, it’s great to reach other audiences that we wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.”

In his position at WC, Stewart is also involved with the Chesapeake Heartland Project.

This project is a collaborative effort between several partnerships within Chestertown and Kent County. Its purpose is to study, preserve, and interpret artifacts of history.

“I have been working on a team to examine what we’re thinking of as treasures of African American history, different objects that we can spotlight to shed light on the long history of African Americans in this place,” Stewart said.

Stewart said he is excited to enter his first months at WC by continuing to meet students and aid them however he can in pursuing their academic interests and passions.

He will also spend this time continuing to learn from the surrounding community of Chestertown through his projects with the Starr Center.

“I’ve spent the last six years in a Ph.D. program where we’re looking only at academic source material, our only audience is other academics. So, for me it’s really great to share ideas and theories: learn from the community, learn with the community, alongside them,” Stewart said. “Not to think of the college community and the surrounding community as separate entities, thinking about them as one place where both are contained.”

Featured Photo caption: Kacey Stewart accepted the position of assistant director of programs and experiential learning at the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. The position was created when the assistant director job was split into two roles. Elm File Photo.

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