The merger of a nonprofit project and local history is a perfect fit for Wichita State University junior Kian Williams.
“History runs in my family,” Williams said. “I was immediately hooked.”
Wichita State’s Public Policy and Management Center is working with the Kansas Aviation Museum on strategic planning. Williams, a junior majoring in political science and international studies, is an undergraduate student research assistant assisting PPMC program manager Kate Young.
The research and writing Williams does to help the museum chart its future connects with the background that shaped a love for history. Williams, who uses they/them pronouns, volunteered at the Reno County Museum to help Ceeley Williams, their mother, who worked as the museum’s archivist.
Archiving documents, photographs and newspaper stories gave them an appreciation for celebrating the past and learning from those events.
“I have a specific passion for local history and the impacts that it has on modern-day people,” Williams said. “Every community has developed in a unique manner and sometimes it’s awesome to take pride in what our community has done in the past.”
Few places take more pride in their aviation history than Wichita.
The PPMC’s job is to help the Kansas Aviation Museum, located at 3350 South George Washington Blvd., with a makeover. The PPMC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with the public and private sectors to conduct research, evaluation, training, and community development.
“We need to get a good idea of where we’re at currently and how we move forward,” said Ben Sauceda, executive director of the museum. “How do we build attendance? What really becomes our mission and focus?”
In addition to researching grants and tax credits, Williams is studying how other aviation museums operate and diving into the history of aviation in Kansas. PPMC is conducting focus groups with military members, Visit Wichita, WSU Tech and elected officials.
“This is such a hands-on experience (for Williams),” Young said. “Kian is seeing what stakeholders are saying about the museum. It’s giving (Williams) a wider aperture of community engagement.”
Williams, of course, is also enjoying a refresher on the rich aviation history of Wichita. The World War II boom at local plants and how the Boeing B-29 influenced the war in the Pacific is of particular interest.
“Each museum always has its unique features,” Sauceda said. “They are digging into some of the research that goes along with the heritage side of our museum.”
The project started in April and should wrap up by early November. Williams’ contributions will increase as the group uses the research in discussions with focus groups. Helping the museum plan its next steps is a responsibility that Williams takes seriously.
“I have to make sure the work that the work I’m doing is the best work I possibly can,” Williams said. “It’s definitely nerve-wracking knowing this is going to end up being used by the museum to redefine the next five years of its operations.”