Grant funds student curator at Orma J. Smith Museum
2011. 06. 24.
Sorting through jars full of mud and dead bugs probably doesn't rank too high on the list of summer jobs for a pre-medical college student, but College of Idaho sophomore Caitlin Indart rather enjoys her work. Thanks to a $4,500 grant from the Schlinger Foundation, Indart spends her summer days in the Boone Hall basement, curating and cataloging samples collected from Baja California – some of which might contain species not yet known to science – for the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History.
“I definitely learn something new every day,” said Indart, a biology major who also does work study for the museum throughout the school year. “At first, I didn't really like bugs, but I've learned a lot about them as well as the process of curating and all the work that goes into it.”
Indart's work is a welcome boost for the museum, which runs on a volunteer basis and has far too many samples for its small staff to sort on its own. Specimens collected from the Mexican peninsula have been a focus over the past three summers as grant funds from the Schlinger Foundation have allowed the museum to hire C of I students to catalog the expansive stock of samples.
“It's been so nice having students like Caitlin because this collection is so expansive,” said museum director Bill Clark. “There is so much to do here in the museum; we just don't have enough hours in the day. But the students have done a nice job of cataloging these samples and turning the Baja California collection into an important resource for the museum and scientific community.”
The Baja California samples are collected using pitfall traps that lead to jars full of preservative chemicals. Anything that falls in the trap is preserved and the jars are collected every 6-12 months. The traps collect a wide variety of species, including ants, roaches, beetles, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, shrews, kangaroo rats and lizards. The project has produced interesting results over the years, discovering several new insect species and helping document the biodiversity of the area. Through her work on the Baja project, Indart hopes to raise interest and awareness about the museum both on campus and in the community.
“I don't think a lot of people know about the museum, even here on campus,” said Indart, who attended nearby Caldwell High School. “I definitely hope we can get more interest and participation because the museum is a great resource. The materials we curate here are incredibly interesting.”
The museum has volunteer work days coming up on July 9 and August 6. To sign up, email Clark or call (208) 459-5507. You can also visit the museum online.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state's oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including six Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another ten Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.