Museum Educator among First in the Nation to Teach Certified Interpretive Guide Course Virtually

COVID19 has changed the way museums operate.  Many institutions are still closed months later, in-person educational programs are practically nonexistence, yet our staff is still making an impact.  Starting in May, our educator Brian Mast, became one of the initial four individuals to offer the National Association for Interpretation’s (NAI) Certified Interpretive Guide course online.

The Certified Interpretive Guide course is designed for anyone who delivers or would like to present interpretive programs to the public. Students who are pursuing degrees in Park and Recreation Management, History, Education, Archaeology, and Biology benefit from learning how to take technical information then present it to any audience. The training combines both the theoretical foundations of the profession with practical skills in delivering quality interpretive programming to visitors.

In an unprecedented move, NAI voted to allow its most popular live classroom course to be taught online due to the pandemic.  One of the most important aspects of the course is the person to person communication which takes place throughout the week.  Since the class participant’s career requires them to be in front of audiences daily, developing that skill set is critical for them to become a better interpreter.  Many questions were asked on how this is going to translate online, will the students still learn the same material, can it be effective.

“A great deal was learned from the first course which ended on June 12.” Said, Mast. “The students were very appreciative of the opportunity to develop their skillset while stuck at home in quarantine or while transitioning back to work.” One of the most popular aspects of the course is the network created between the students who carry into the future.  A total of 55 students will participate in the 4 sections taught from May 17 until July 2.  They include individuals from Connecticut, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Texas, Colorado, California, Puerto Rico, Halifax Nova Scotia (Canada), Alberta Canada, and Indonesia.  “Each individual provides a diverse perspective to the course content which creates a larger narrative for everyone to learn how to be a better interpreter.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the course has been the mastering of technology.  Through the generous use of UWA’s Zoom meeting license, Google classroom, ProValens courses, NAI’s website, and other applications, students have not only been able to complete assignments, troubleshoot issues, but also communicate with each other when needed.  “These important lessons for the first four courses are important when moving into the next phase of course development.  Instructors will be tasked with creating online course content from scratch similar to what is done by professors for college courses.  It will be a very rewarding challenge.”

Our plan is to offer the phase two version of the course specifically to our partners in the Black Belt region. It will allow them to learn without having to travel for up to two hours each way every day while networking with other institutions in our region.  The goal for us to continue the tradition of UWA being a resource for institutions within our region and this course is an excellent way to help similar institutions.  For more information regarding the course, you can contact Brian via email or call his office at 205-652-5528.

Black Belt Museum Joins the Fight Against COVID19

During COVID19, The University of West Alabama’s Black Belt Museum has shifted its focus from class field trips, personal tours and guest lectures to virtual world interactions that directly impact the local community.

“We want to strengthen our connection to a community who has supported us for many years,” said staff members. “To make this difference we are reaching out to the healthcare community within our region to supply much need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to individuals on the front lines.”

With the Black Belt Museum’s two 3D printers and with borrowed 3D printers from the University Charter School, UWA’s College of Education and Robotics Lab, Director James Lamb, Public Historian Brian Mast and Technician Tim Truelove can continue to print face shields at home over the past 8 weeks.

The Black Belt Museum’s first batch of face shields landed at the Livingston Fire and Rescue Squad. In addition, Grove Hill’s police department, along with their emergency services and Rush Medical Center nurses have received delivery of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the Black Belt Museum over the next few weeks. Since the beginning, face shields have been distributed to the following counties; Lauderdale in Mississippi, Sumter, Hale, Greene, Pickens, Clarke, Marengo, Wilcox, Dallas and Essex County New Jersey.

The Museum has received requests for more than 1400 shields. Currently we have filled 1400 of those requests. Staff are working hard to bridge the gap between requests and number fulfilled. Our process has been expedited due to a donation of 1000 transparency sheets from the UWA Department of Printing, the College of Liberal Arts and the Division of Economic & Workforce Development.

According the Museum staff the collaboration and sharing of resources with 3D online community has been key to the ongoing effort.

“We appreciate the donations. This enables us to continue to offer this equipment to our local healthcare and first responders for free,” said Lamb.  (Want to contribute to this campaign as well? Go to our GoFundMe here

Go to the Black Museum Facebook page to watch the shields being made to and to learn more about the process.

EMS services, nursing homes, home healthcare workers, hospitals, food bank workers can still request shields. Donations can be made to the GoFundMe, search for UWA Black Belt Museum Face Shields on the site. Also you can donate transparency sheets or PLA 3D printer filament by contacting the museum. We can be reached via Facebook messenger or email staff members James Lamb (; Brian Mast (; or Tim Truelove ( or email the museum (

A great article was written by WVUA23 by Sydney Melson after an interview with the entire staff.  You can find the link to it here.

Black Belt Museum launches “The Secrets of the Black Belt” window exhibit

Renovating the McMillan Bank Building
The University of West Alabama’s Black Belt Museum has launched its new window exhibit series in downtown Livingston.

Located just north of the Sumter County Courthouse Square and across the street from the Bored Well, the Black Belt Museum is an emerging regional museum currently under construction. The building was once home to Sumter County’s McMillan Bank.

The first floor of the building is anticipated to open by the Summer 2016. The mission of the Museum is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret the landscape and rich history of the Black Belt of Alabama and Mississippi.

“The rotating window exhibit will be a way for the public to engage with the Museum as we work towards opening,” said Dr. Tina Jones, executive director of UWA’s Division of Economic Development and Outreach where the Museum is housed.

The first window exhibit, The Secrets of the Black Belt showcases photographs, textiles, and artifacts from the collections of the Black Belt Museum and the Black Belt Archives representing the history, culture, natural history, folklife, and industry of the people in the Black Belt region of Alabama. Featured items showcase each unique aspect of our region, individuals can gaze through the window to see a cross section of life, past and present.

“We wanted this first window exhibit to portray the life and heritage of the people in the Black Belt and display a broad range of the Black Belt’s history, including the mosasaur jaw from the Cretaceous period, the end of the Age of the Dinosaur. If you came to the Science Saturday’s Jurassic World event, you got a look at a complete mosasaur skull! ” said paleontologist James Lamb. The exhibit will be on display through December 15. The Black Belt Museum expresses its appreciation to its co-sponsor, Black Belt Archives and Archivist Amy Christiansen, Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dr. Ashley Dumas, AmeriCorps VISTA Emily Boersma and Public Relations Specialist Gena Robbins for their knowledge and creation of the exhibition banners along with the greater staff from the Division of Economic Development and Outreach on UWA’s campus.

For more information on the exhibit or the Black Belt Museum, contact James Lamb at (205) 652-3725/ or Brian Mast at (205) 652-5528/ Find the Black Belt Museum on Facebook and use #blackbeltmuseum on Instagram and Twitter.

When completed, the outside of the building will be returned to an appearance appropriate to the early twentieth-century Livingston courthouse square. The restored facade will feature two exhibit windows for attractive changing exhibits. The west portion of the downstairs will be an all-purpose assembly area suitable for children’s programs, public meetings and small exhibits. The east portion will house the exhibits, featuring long-term exhibits devoted to the art, history, archaeology, and natural history of the Black Belt. The upstairs will contain offices, exhibit preparation areas, storage and collection rooms. It will also include a modern conference room for professional and community meetings.