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.

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