Interns, Grants, and Casts – Oh My!

by Erik Ozolins, Professor of Anthropology at Mt. San Jacinto College

After Alton and I talked about doing an exhibit based on the collections in my lab at MSJC, I assumed that nothing would come of it, but after several more conversations, the initial discussions had a definite possibility of being put into action.  I quickly realized that the five or six month exhibit that Alton was talking about would keep the teaching collection out of the hands of the students for much too long, so I decided to write an internal grant through the college. I figured that this project would meet two critical components of MSJC’s mission: student classroom instruction and community outreach.  After the casts would be used in the exhibit, the Anthropology department could use the casts in our classes at the San Jacinto Campus and the San Gorgonio and Temecula Centers, as those collections were much smaller.

During Spring 2015 I wrote the budget request proposal.  I figured we would need about 25 to 30 casts and so I asked for around $8500 – and the proposal was funded in July! This was both exhilarating and terrifying. This meant that I had to actually help put together a museum exhibit, something that I have never done before!

As Alton and I talked over the summer and into the beginning of the Fall semester, we both independently came up with the idea of including students in the project.  At the college we have a course/program called Cooperative Work Experience (which is essentially an occupational internship). Alton and the WSC would be the employer for the students and I would serve as the faculty advisor. The other full time Anthropology professor at MSJC, Pam Ford, and I identified the possible Anthropology majors at the college who might be interested in the project. I sent an email to them all, hoping to get interest from maybe four to five students, and ending up with one or two students joining us on the exhibit journey. Within a couple of days, I had already received interest from about eight students – eventually rising to 14 students expressing interest in the project. In late January, 11 of the students met with Alton, Darla Radford (the Collections Manager at the WSC) and I, and ultimately seven students signed up for the internship.

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Professor Erik Ozolins discussing the exhibit with prospective interns.

For the last two months the student interns have been researching different hominin species and participating in meetings with us every few weeks to discuss and brainstorm the exhibit. It has been fascinating for me, and I believe for Alton as well, to see what the students come up with. Many of their ideas are progressing in terms of development, and we shall see whether they end up in the finished exhibit. Stay tuned and expect to hear from the students themselves as they participate in the development of this blog as well.

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The Exhibit Begins

by Dr. Alton Dooley, WSC Executive Director

This blog is the story of a museum exhibit, from conception to execution. Like many other large projects, this one has surprisingly modest beginnings.

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Patrick Henry Community College students examine hominid replicas

In the fall of 2014 I was the newly hired Director of the Western Science Center, trying to learn as much as possible about my new position and surroundings as quickly as I could. Besides the day-to-day work of overseeing the museum’s budget and operations, I was meeting the vast numbers of people that make a museum successful – staff, board members, volunteers, donors, visitors, etc. At the same time, I was starting to think about what exhibits we were going to be running over the next two years.

One of the people I met early on was Erik Ozolins. Erik is an anthropology professor at Mt. San Jacinto College with several connections to WSC. Besides being married to WSC educator Margaret Ozolins, Erik is a frequent volunteer at our events and is one of the organizers of the joint WSC/MSJC lecture series. As soon as I was able, I took Erik up on an invitation to give me a tour of the MSJC Menifee campus.

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Professor Erik Ozolins (left) & Dr. Alton Dooely (right)

At Erik’s office, he showed me a cabinet filled with cast replicas of a huge range of primate skulls. Even though I don’t do research on humans, most of the skulls were familiar to me. In my previous job at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, I collaborated with my wife Brett Dooley, who was then a biology and geology professor at Patrick Henry Community College, to develop museum short courses to teach human evolution to high school and college students using many of the exact same casts. Erik, of course, was using the skulls for exactly the same purpose in a classroom setting.

As we looked at Erik’s collection, I made some comment along the lines of wishing the museum had access to such an impressive array of casts, because they could be turned into a compelling exhibit on human history. Erik suggested that it might be possible to work out an arrangement for the museum to borrow casts from the college for an exhibit, especially if MSJC students could be involved in the project in some way. And, just like that, an exhibit concept was born.

In future posts we’ll be describing the twists and turns of this exhibit as it develops from many different points of view, including WSC and MSJC staff, as well as the MSJC students involved in the project. The project is ongoing, so we don’t yet know all the twists and turns it may take; in fact, we don’t yet have a final exhibit title for “Insert Exhibit Name Here”! But we hope you’ll follow along with us as we see how it evolves.