As the COVID-19 pandemic surpasses the one-year mark, people are continually challenged to come up with creative and safe ways to entertain themselves.

Suffice to say, when the pandemic is over, Kate Wroblewski and her husband will be able to mix some tantalizing cocktails.

The couple, along with colleagues of Wroblewski in the LSA departments of History and American Culture, have been taking virtual bartending classes through a local cocktail enthusiast during their free time.

“It’s been nice and is one of those things that’s translated well to the pandemic, just to be able to get together and learn a new skill,” said Wroblewski, lecturer III in history and assistant director of undergraduate studies. “I bake and cook all the time, but the cocktail classes are new.”

Wroblewski takes the classes through Tammy Coxen’s Tammy’s Tastings. Participants select the type of class they are interested in, Coxen assigns them goods to purchase, and then walks them through the history of the spirits and how to create specific cocktails out of them.

Kate Wroblewski is shown with her husband, Chad Weeks, and their daughter, Zofia, at Ingalls Mall during Rackham Graduate School commencement exercises in 2018. Wroblewski is a lecturer III in history in LSA and assistant director of undergraduate studies. (Photo courtesy of Kate Wroblewski)
Kate Wroblewski is shown with her husband, Chad Weeks, and their daughter, Zofia, at Ingalls Mall during Rackham Graduate School commencement exercises in 2018. Wroblewski is a lecturer III in history in LSA and assistant director of undergraduate studies. (Photo courtesy of Kate Wroblewski)

Most recently, Wroblewski took a class on Irish whiskeys around St. Patrick’s Day. The virtual format for the classes eliminates the need for a designated driver to return her to her Chelsea home, and it provides an opportunity for participants from anywhere to join.

“She takes you through the history of different types of liquors and the actual bartending that goes into it, like what constitutes an Old Fashioned,” she said. “You can take these classes from anywhere, so you’re taking them with people from California, sometimes people from Amsterdam join in so you make interesting connections that way.

“Anything you can do to deal with the boredom and tedium of the moment has been good.”

She also discovered pub trivia, which she does virtually with friends to “geek out over trivia.” It’s probably no surprise that she is good at it, considering she is a “Jeopardy!” champion.

Wroblewski competed on the show in 2014, hoping to parlay her experience as a Quiz Bowl competitor while a U-M undergraduate student into success on the popular game show. She tried out for the show the year before in Detroit and got the call to compete while working on her master’s degree in education and her Ph.D. in history at U-M.

“I was finishing up my oral exams so I basically had to ask my adviser to put off my exam so I could go on ‘Jeopardy!’” she said. “It was stressful, but it was fun.”

She won the first competition, successfully answering the Final Jeopardy clue on 16th Century Scientists, a history category right in her wheelhouse. After winning $9,201 on that first show, she finished second the following day to take home more than $11,000 and many memories.

“It was neat to see the production of the show from behind the scenes,” she said. “Everyone there was so professional, and they just love working on that show. From (Alex) Trebek to the guy working on my mic and doing my makeup. It was a joy to see people who really loved to do what they do, and they do it very well.”

With winter now giving way to spring, Wroblewski turns her attention to the outdoors and another passion of hers: baseball. She and her husband, Chad Weeks, both grew up in southwest Michigan and are huge Chicago Cubs fans.

The Cubs’ World Series championship of 2016 continues to reverberate.

“If you grow up around baseball, it becomes this kind of family thing,” she said. “I remember watching games with my grandparents, so when they won the World Series it was one of those things that everybody could be grateful for having that kind of experience.”

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Her grandparents are of Polish descent, and Polish history has guided her research. She said she focuses on the experiences of Polish labor migrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and “how people like my grandparents and great-grandparents understood their economic lives.”

Wroblewski lived in Poland for two years after graduating from U-M with her bachelor’s degree and obtaining a master’s degree in history and a juris doctor in law from Indiana University.

“I made a lot of connections and got to know people who are doing really interesting politically engaged work,” she said. “For me, given my background and interest in history, it was a nice fit.”

Travel is on her agenda once the pandemic lifts, and she’d like to take her passion for mountain biking — and newfound bartending skills — on a trip to Scotland with her husband.

“I’d love to get out to do some hiking, mountain biking and then visit some distilleries,” she said.

Q&A

What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?

One example that jumps out at me comes from a class on sports in world history that I’ve been developing, which has been a great opportunity for me because I’m able to learn about things that I do in my free time. I’ve been floored at students’ ability to consider how deeply embedded that link between sports and politics is and specifically the relationship between sports and colonialism and conceptions of race and gender. We’ve had some interesting conversations about cricket.

What can’t you live without?

I could be cool and say my mountain bike, but more realistically it’s my cast iron pan. We’ve been cooking a lot during the pandemic. Also, my dog, Rory, should get a shoutout. He’s a very good dog.

Name your favorite spot on campus.  

The Grad Library is incredible, and I’m always floored that I can basically get whatever Polish-language book I need and that there are librarians who can help me locate research and teaching materials. When I graduated (with my bachelor’s degree) and lost my U-M library privileges, I wanted to cry.

What inspires you?

Scholars who combine research with political activism. It’s a key feature of our department, and I’m amazed at how many of my colleagues here and abroad are able to produce such incredible scholarship while still keeping a commitment to public-facing work.

What are you currently reading?

Diane Cook’s “The New Wilderness,” which is timely as we consider what the world might look like due to climate change. Adam Leszczyński’s “Ludowa historia Polski” is a hot book in the field right now, so that’s what’s up next for me in terms of work reading, along with Carl Suddler’s “Presumed Criminal: Black Youth and the Justice System in Postwar New York.”

Who had the greatest influence on your career path? 

I’ve really been fortunate to have had a lot of mentors in my life and a strong support system, and that’s important when it comes to academia, which can be isolating at times.  I’ll give a shoutout to my grandparents and parents who created an intellectual atmosphere where I felt challenged and valued. 

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