Preserving the May 4 Legacy: Alison Caplan Named New Director of Kent State's May 4 Visitors Center

After a national search, Alison Caplan has been selected as the new director of Kent State University’s May 4 Visitors Center, a museum that tells the story of the shootings at Kent State on May 4, 1970, set in the context of the 1960s. Caplan currently serves as director of education at the National First Ladies’ Library in Canton, Ohio. She will begin at Kent State on July 18.

In her new position, Caplan will serve as an integral educational resource in the university’s effort to remember and commemorate the killed and wounded students. Caplan will preserve their stories for future generations while continuing to make connections to current events that keep the center relevant and help students become active, engaged citizens.

“As May 4 survivors age, I will help connect all stakeholders to the center – from survivors to current Kent State students – and encourage that the site be used as a brave space for reflection and discussion,” she said.

Caplan’s wide range of responsibilities will include overseeing the center’s budget and personnel; managing programming and events; developing outreach initiatives to community and campus audiences; and securing funding to enhance the center’s public presence. She will report to Ken Burhanna, dean of Kent State University Libraries.

“I feel very fortunate to have Alison Caplan join our team,” Burhanna said. “She brings a strong track record of successful programming and possesses the right balance of vision, caring and resiliency to lead the May 4 Visitors Center into the future.” 

Caplan, a resident of Akron, Ohio, said she is excited to be chosen as the center’s next director.

“It is a great responsibility to be tasked with preserving the memory of the four students who died and the nine who were injured on May 4, 1970,” she said. “I am humbled by the opportunity to make their stories relevant to the lives of current Kent State students and connect them to the challenges of today’s world.”

As she steps into this important role for the university, Caplan is already planning on how she can broaden the center’s engagement with patrons by increasing its utilization as a community space and as a catalyst for programming and dialogue. She said she is eager to facilitate high-tech programming that will lead to unique participatory experiences for attendees. Caplan’s goals for the center include engaging K-12 teachers and students by establishing an advisory group that will assist in developing training for educators and impactful field trips for students. Under her direction, the center will offer exhibitions that will further utilize the expansive May 4 archive to increase the voices represented, expand on their stories and attract a larger audience.

Caplan succeeds Mindy Farmer, Ph.D., who served as director of the May 4 Visitors Center from 2014 to 2022. Since Farmer’s departure from the university, Assistant Director Lori Boes has served as the interim director. Caplan brings 25 years of experience as a museum professional, including her most recent positions as director of education for the National First Ladies’ Library in Canton, Ohio, and as director of education at the Akron Art Museum.

At the National First Ladies’ Library, Caplan helped grow the library’s audience by engaging with patrons through a portfolio of programs that increased awareness to first ladies’ causes, accomplishments, fashion and more. Her coordination of knowledgeable speakers and innovative curriculum attracted more than 4,000 virtual visitors during the pandemic. At the Akron Art Museum, she created unique programs, such as Inside Out, which involves displaying reproductions from museum collections in the community, and Art Library, a lending library of original artworks.

“These programs help audiences make unique and meaningful connections to special exhibitions by leveraging community participation,” Caplan said.

Caplan is currently enrolled in Kent State’s Master of Library and Information Science program and holds both a master’s degree in education from the University of Akron and a master’s degree in art history and museum studies from Case Western Reserve University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Oberlin College. Caplan also has instructional experience as an associate lecturer for the University of Akron, where she earned a K-12 visual arts licensure.

About May 4, 1970

On May 4, 1970, Kent State was placed in an international spotlight after a student protest against the Vietnam War and the presence of the Ohio National Guard on campus ended in tragedy. Thirteen seconds of rifle fire by 28 Ohio National Guardsmen left four students dead, one permanently paralyzed and eight others wounded. The impact of the shootings was dramatic, triggering a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close.

About Kent State University’s May 4 Visitors Center

The May 4 Visitors Center opened in October 2012. It is located in room 101 of Taylor Hall at 300 Midway Drive on the university’s Kent Campus. Using images, artifacts and multimedia, the center’s exhibits tell the story of the decade leading up to May 4, 1970, the events of that day, the aftermath and the historical impact. For more information about the May 4 Visitors Center, visit

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Photo Caption:
Alison Caplan has been selected as the new director of Kent State University’s May 4 Visitors Center.

Media Contacts:
Cynthia Williams,, 330-672-0159
Emily Vincent,, 330-672-8595

POSTED: Wednesday, July 5, 2023 10:38 AM
Updated: Wednesday, July 5, 2023 10:42 AM
Cynthia Williams