Meet The Museum of Science and Industry’s Roommate, Kate McGroarty!

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”, by E. L. Konigsburg. The story detailed the adventures of Claudia Kincaid and her younger brother Jamie as they ran away from home and moved into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They spent their days tagging along with school groups exploring the museum’s exhibits, and spent their evenings bathing in fountains (grabbing coins from the bottom to buy food from the vending machines) and sleeping in the beds of kings and queens from another time.

Though I wasn’t the kind of kid who wanted to run away (except for that one time when I was about six: I got as far as the picnic table in the backyard and sat there until my mom came out to “bring me home”), I always thought that having the same freedom to explore such a magnificent place full of wonderful things would be the most amazing dream come true.

Under very different circumstances, a young woman named Kate McGroarty is living that dream right now. As the winner of the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Month at the Museum” contest, she is in the final week of a thirty-day “experiment” in one of Chicago’s top destinations. (I wrote about the contest here, and made my own announcement of Kate’s win here.)

As the Museum’s roommate, her job has many facets. She lives in the Museum, but she’s not just hanging out like Claudia and Jamie. She is learning about science by checking out the details of all of the wonderful exhibits and getting mini-lessons from the talented (and smart!) staff. She gets to explore the entire building, getting unprecedented access—like getting to sleep IN the U-505 submarine, checking out the sunsets on the roof, holding, with gloved hands, Museum artifacts that are currently stored in the collections department, and much more. She interacts with visitors of all ages, and is taking pictures, making videos, and writing blog posts to document her experience. (I know there’s even more than that, but frankly, I’m exhausted from typing all of that. I’m sure you get my drift.)

Here’s video of Kate’s sleepover in the submarine:

Here’s a tour of her Cube:

Here’s a video called “Monocle Monday”:

(All of Kate’s videos can be found at her Youtube channel!)

Some random facts about Kate’s experience:
1. She has an orange shirt for each of the thirty days of the experiment. Each shirt has a big number on the back so she (and anyone looking at her!) can tell which day she’s on.

2. Though she has a public “cube” in the public area of the museum, she has living quarters elsewhere in the building.

3. She has a volleyball (with a face painted on it) that was given to her by her friends when she moved into the museum; she has named it “Sam Hastings” (after a friend).

4. She attended the Columbian Ball at the Museum shortly after moving in, and was “let out” to enjoy a Bulls game, too.

I have been following Kate’s adventures on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter, and was totally psyched to score a phone interview with her this week. I tried to come up with some questions she hadn’t heard before (she’s done tons of interviews since her month began, as you can imagine!), and I asked them in a totally random order. As I told her, “I think you’ll see, I’m no Oprah.”

So here, in no particular order, are the questions I asked Kate:

1. Will you ever wear orange again? I was really positive about orange for the first 20 days…and now, I’m ready to go put on something turquoise! I’ve never really worn orange in my life before, but now I’d be less inclined to reject it.

2. I am the mom of two teens: which exhibits would you recommend most for that age group? Definitely the U-505, it’s got that “cool factor”, but the exhibit they’ve built around it is just fantastic. Also, “Hubble” is a really great IMAX movie; I loved it! The thing is, there’s something for everyone! I love the You! The Experience exhibit, there’s Science Storms…some of the live science things they do here. Everyday there are live science demonstrations.

3. During the day, is there a certain person walking around with you (taking pictures, etc.) or are you having to hand the camera off to random people to help document your time? I have a “Museum Mate” daily from 8-8, though some days I let them go home early because I’m just hanging out in my cube. There’s very little editing of what I do here; nobody tells me what I have to do. I’m kind of my own department, and the “Museum Mates” keep me on task.

4. You mentioned in your blog post about visiting the collections department that they’ll eventually have a “Kate box” back there, with items in it from your time there. If you could choose a few items to create a “Kate’s Month at the Museum” exhibit for visitors to enjoy, what would they be? My Sam Hastings ball, but I really don’t want to part with him (I‘d have separation anxiety!), definitely my cameras, maybe my monocle that I wear on Mondays, the dress that I wore to the Columbian ball and pictures of me doing all the strange things that I’ve been doing.

5. Where do you go from here? I know you graduated from Northwestern University in 2008 with a theater degree; have your long-term career aspirations changed at all? Do you think that other opportunities will come your way as a happy result of your obvious talent to engage others, on and off camera? I do hope that things will come my way, but I plan to be very careful about the offers I take. I actually have a lot of things going on almost immediately after I leave here. For one thing, I’m going home (to Minnesota) for an entire week, which is longer than I am usually able to stay. Before this, I developed an Introduction to Theater Production program and directed a musical in Winnetka: I might work part-time with them again. I’m also assistant-directing a show after this! Before I moved into the Museum I was also working on a screenplay; I have lots of projects! Now I’d love to also be involved in a science education program!

6. What do you think it will feel like, to walk out of the museum for the last time as a roommate? I predict it’s gonna be totally embarrassing, because I’m going to be a mess.

7. How soon do you think it’ll be before you return for a visit? I have a lifetime membership so I’ll be back soon!

Kate and I chatted for a few more minutes before I thanked her profusely and set her free for her next interview. In that time, she gave me a peek into how one of the focal points of a major Museum exhibit was conceptualized, but told me I should fact-check to make sure she had the story right. I sent an e-mail and ended up having a great conversation with one of the Vice Presidents of MSI, and I’m honored to be able to share the story with you, my readers…

…but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to read it!


By the way, Kate’s last day at the Museum of Science and Industry is November 18th, so if you’re local and can get there this week, GO!

(P.S. Thank you, Kate, for everything! It was a pleasure speaking with you, and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. You’ve done a great job as MSI’s Ambassador this month; thanks for representing so well!)


©2010 Suburban Scrawl

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