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Grant Creates Opportunity to Catalog Museum’s Collection

January 31, 2024

A grant from the National Science Foundation will help the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History at The College of Idaho move toward completion of a large and critical project.

The three-year grant, totaling $500,000, will allow the Museum to catalog and digitize its collection - over three million specimens, acquired over the past 50 years, primarily from locations in the intermountain west of the United States. Dr. Ashley Ferguson has been hired to manage this project, which will consist of an integrated team of museum volunteers, students and faculty from the College, and local STEM teachers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and guide them through the process of cataloging and digitizing the collection.

“Things are cataloged on paper right now. Specimens have paper labels, but we need to get it electronic (online),” said Bill Clark ’67, the Museum’s director. “This will be helpful for us and it is helpful for the entire world, whoever can use the material.”

Clark acknowledges it will be a challenge to electronically catalog the entire Museum in three years but he and his staff are hopeful to make enough progress to secure an extension or additional funding to ensure proper completion.

On top of the goal of creating a complete informational archive of the Museum’s contents, Clark expects to achieve another goal by enhancing the Museum’s relationship with the community, both the campus community and the surrounding community, by engaging the large group of people to complete the work, including students from nearby colleges.

“The more support we get, the better, and we can really use the help,” Clark said of the community’s involvement the project. “CWI (College of Western Idaho, a community college located in nearby Nampa, Idaho) doesn’t have a museum or extensive labs or anything like that, so this is a handy way for some of their students to get hands-on.”

It’s also an opportunity for Museum staffers to reacquaint themselves with their considerable collections, some of which they may be seeing for the first time as the project unfolds.

“Oh sure,” Clark laughed. “I’m sure that will happen a lot.”

The College of Idaho has a 133-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including eight Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit