July 13, 2006

Student selected for prestigious history fellowship

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A history student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is getting a rare behind-the-scenes view of a museum and taking part in a thorough investigation of early New England history and culture.

Allison Balch, an SIUC senior, is participating in the Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship program in Deerfield, Mass. Balch was one of seven students selected nationally for the prestigious seminar. The $7,500 fellowship pays for tuition, books, housing and meals.

Balch is taking advantage of the all-expense paid nine-week workshop in historic Deerfield, which is a living museum of a dozen 18th and 19th century homes and their artifacts. The summer program offers fellows an extensive examination of early American history, architecture, material culture and museum interpretation and operations.

"It's been a dream come true," Balch said. "It's really wonderful. I've learned so much and it's fascinating to see and study buildings more than 400 years old."

Students participate in classroom seminars, walking tours and activities in the museum houses. They also take field trips to museums off-campus. Balch and her group recently visited a Native American museum in Connecticut and Strawbery Banke Museum in New Hampshire's oldest seacoast neighborhood.

Balch plans to pursue a graduate degree in history, focusing on early American studies. In the meantime, she is enjoying her college experience. "The history program at SIUC is great and this summer program will only enhance my educational experiences back home."

Balch's mentors at SIUC have had no doubt about her potential. "For over 10 years I have been doing research in Deerfield. I think I know what is expected of applicants and what fellows can gain," wrote Michael C. Batinski, chair of SIUC's history department, in a nominating letter. "Ms. Balch has demonstrated that she has the ability to meet the highest standards represented by the fellowship papers. Both her abilities and her experiences in public history will make her a welcome addition to the program."

A native of Murphysboro, Balch is venturing far beyond her familiar surroundings for the first time. "This is the farthest and the longest I've been away from Southern Illinois," she said. "I'm a little homesick but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and when I do get home, I'll be able to look at Southern Illinois history with a greater appreciation. "

Enhancing the culture of research and scholarship is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.