Ten years ago, Priscilla Grew wasn’t sure if the University of Nebraska State Museum would make it.
Today, those in the know call it “Black Monday.” It was a time when major funding cuts to the museum threatened its existence, but the institution stayed afloat.
Grew, museum director, spoke of the museum’s changes, struggles and importance to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s land-grant mission at the second Olson Seminar of the semester Wednesday afternoon. The seminar, titled “Engaging Lifelong Learners in Natural History: The Land-Grant Mission of the University of Nebraska State Museum” took place in the Great Plains Art Museum at 3:30 p.m. and drew an audience of about 15.
The land-grant mission promotes research, teaching and service to the public through university resources.
“I think when people think about the museum, they think about Archie the Mammoth out front or they may think about children coming to the museum,” said Grew, who is also a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at UNL. “Most people who go to a land-grant talk don’t expect to hear from a museum.”
She said most people connect the land-grant mission with the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources because it conducts many outreaches and education opportunities. But she said people shouldn’t count out the museum when it comes to the land-grant mission.
As the 10th anniversary of “Black Monday” approaches, Grew reflected on the museum’s struggles.
“We’ve really had to do a lot of restructuring and changing since then, and we’ve had extremely devoted museum employees who have worked really hard to maintain the museum after the big budget cuts,” she said.
Grew said universities and museums are always vulnerable to budget cuts. Though the land-grant mission’s merging of three goals benefits the university, it can also leave funding spread thin.
But the museum is beneficial to the university and community, Grew said.
“Our mission is to really try to convey the latest understanding of excitement and researching knowledge about the natural world and about world cultures through our anthropology department,” she said.
Grew said one of the museum’s main goals is to create an interest in the natural world among all ages.
She said the museum is doing so by holding outreach events like “Sunday with a Scientist,” which allows families to be involved in educational and research activities. More than 800 people attended the Feb. 17 “Sunday with a Scientist: Eight-legged Encounters,” to learn about spiders.
The museum also offers encounter kits, which people can rent and take home to teach their kids about various topics.
Rick Edwards, the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies, said the museum’s outreach to young people is what resonated most with him from Grew’s talk.
“We have a huge problem in this country of convincing young people that science is important,” he said. “The best way to do that is through hands-on experiences, and that’s what the museum does really well.”
Edwards said the museum’s programs have been very effective because they allow kids to actually do things instead of just reading about them.
“Instead of talking to them, let them hold things, dissect things, make things and so on,” he said. “It’s much more likely to be effective.”
Edwards said science affects all public policies and ways of thinking about life, which is why teaching all ages is important.
Ending the seminar, Grew had a call to action for the audience.
“Enjoy and support your land-grant museum.”