NCPH welcomes new executive director

At the 2016 National Council on Public History meeting in Baltimore, then-Interim-Executive-Director Stephanie Rowe (left) joined Founders Award winners Arnita Jones and Phil Cantelon and former NCPH Executive Director John Dichtl (right). Photo credit: NCPH

At the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, then-interim-executive-director Stephanie Rowe (left) joined Founders Award winners Arnita Jones and Phil Cantelon and former NCPH executive director John Dichtl (right). Photo credit: NCPH

A year ago, on a hot, sweltering Indiana day, the search committee for the next executive director for the National Council on Public History met in person for the first time. The task we faced, led by chair Bill Bryans, seemed monumental: to not only find a new executive director who respects and understands the complex history of NCPH, but one who also recognizes that the organization is undergoing tremendous change and growth, and who will become a collaborative colleague within the history department at the Indiana University (IU) School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), NCPH’s host university.

Given the scope of this task, it shouldn’t be surprising that it took us a year and a half to find a new executive director. The surprising thing is that we found a candidate who not only meets all of these expectations, but exceeds them: Stephanie Rowe.

I want to take a moment to thank the entire search committee for their hard work and to congratulate them on a job well done. The committee included: Bill Bryans, chair, Oklahoma State University; Marianne Babal, Wells Fargo; Raymond Haberski, IUPUI history department; Lisa Junkin Lopez, Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace; Kisha Tandy, Indiana State Museum; and myself. I also thank the history department faculty and IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI for their support of, and involvement in, the process, especially Thomas Davis, dean of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI; Didier Gondola, chair of history department; and Daniella Kostroun, acting chair of the history department. The NCPH board and search committee would also like to extend a huge thanks to the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and the history department at IUPUI for their support of NCPH throughout the search and appointment processes.

As the interim executive director for NCPH, Stephanie underwent what was, in many ways, a year-long interview process. Like all of the candidates, she gave a job talk, answered a detailed questionnaire about her vision for the organization, and interviewed with NCPH search committee members, as well as faculty and administrators at IUPUI. But Stephanie also repeatedly demonstrated her outstanding managerial skills and abilities throughout the past year, a period which saw the largest NCPH conference, as well as continued and fairly rapid growth in its membership, and a complete redesign of the organization’s website, blog, and print materials.

When she agreed to accept the position this summer, the search committee, board of directors, and our colleagues at IUPUI were thrilled. We believe NCPH members will share our enthusiasm as they learn more about Stephanie and her vision for NCPH.

Stephanie brings multiple strengths to this position, including the fact that she spent several years as a practicing public historian before coming to NCPH. A graduate of one of the nation’s premier and oldest history museum studies programs, she possesses strong academic credentials. And, of course, having worked for NCPH as its program manager and associate director for four years, she has an in-depth understanding of the organization, its mission, the challenges it faces, and, perhaps most importantly, its members.

In her previous position at Museumwise, now the Museum Association of New York (MANY), Stephanie worked primarily with small to mid-sized history museums, offering professional development, training, and other capacity-building opportunities. This experience has given her insight into both the work many NCPH members do on a daily basis, as well as the needs and challenges that face practitioners. While working at MANY, Stephanie had the opportunity to learn how a non-profit organization handles growth and change while working collaboratively with other similar organizations.

One of the most important relationships for NCPH is its connection to IUPUI. Having worked at NCPH for four years, Stephanie understands this relationship from not only an administrative angle but also from a personal perspective. When asked during her interview to discuss the direction NCPH needs, Stephanie articulated several critical ways in which NCPH and IUPUI can continue to build on their relationship, even as both institutions change and grow. The search committee was impressed not only by Stephanie’s vision for this relationship but also by her deep knowledge of the IUPUI faculty, administration, and programs (both old and new). This knowledge bodes well for the future longevity of this all-important relationship.

Stephanie Rowe and Susan Ferentinos, who served as Acting Director during Stephanie's recent maternity leave, at the 2016 NCPH conference in Baltimore. Photo: NCPH

Stephanie Rowe and Susan Ferentinos, who served as acting director during Stephanie’s recent maternity leave, at the 2016 NCPH conference in Baltimore. Photo: NCPH

Knowing NCPH, its members, and its mission through her previous work with the organization also meant that Stephanie was able to point to the very real challenges which face the organization overall. During her job talk, she discussed at some length the ways in which NCPH can play a central role in bridging the very real divisions which exist between public history practitioners who work in the academy and those who work outside the academy, how NCPH can develop and maintain greater financial stability (especially as its explosive growth has strained existing resources), how the organization can take a leading role in creating a more diverse field of historians (and a more diverse NCPH), and finally, how she can guide the organization in addressing widespread perceptions (and misperceptions!) about the value and relevance of history and public history in particular.

There are no easy answers to the challenges NCPH faces in the upcoming years. Acknowledging these issues–and beginning to foster a nuanced discussion in which all voices are heard–will require a steady and thoughtful leader, one who is willing to advocate for an innovative and new approach to these different challenges but one who also understands and can build on the organization’s past successes.

After a lengthy and thorough search, we are confident that Stephanie Rowe will be able to take up these challenges and to lead NCPH–and the history profession overall–in addressing these issues. We are also confident that as she leads the organization, she will be able to maintain the welcoming culture that has made NCPH a much-loved institution among both its old and new members.

And we hope, reflecting that culture, that you will join us in welcoming Stephanie as the next NCPH executive director.

~ Alexandra Lord is chair and curator of the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History and president of the NCPH board of directors.

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