UO science museum is tapped as a national medal finalist

This article first appeared in Around the O on March 5, 2018

The Institute of Museum and Library Services has selected the Museum of Natural and Cultural History as a finalist for the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

Nominated by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, both Oregon Democrats, the museum is one of 29 finalists. The list includes public libraries and library systems; art, science and children’s museums; and zoos across the country.

The national medal is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to their communities. For 24 years, the award has celebrated institutions that demonstrate extraordinary and innovative approaches to public service and are making a difference for individuals, families and communities.

“In a rapidly changing world, the MNCH is a trustworthy source of information that helps connect us to our natural and cultural heritage,” DeFazio said. “Its collections tell us stories, help us answer questions, teach us about life on Earth, encourage critical thinking, and make science and history real and tangible.”

The honor recognizes the ways the UO museum serves Oregon communities, with special focus on its statewide educational outreach program. The program, which travels to K-8 classrooms throughout the school year and to public libraries during the summer months, brings fossils, artifacts and lively learning experiences to communities around Oregon.

“The museum’s mission is to enhance knowledge of Earth’s environments and cultures, inspiring stewardship of our collective past, present and future,” said Jon Erlandson, the museum’s executive director. “Members of the university and local communities have ready access to exhibitions and programs that directly serve this mission. Now, by taking the museum on the road, our outreach program is expanding that access to Oregonians across the entire state.”

That outreach is helping the state address its goal of providing students with more exposure to science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM subjects.

“Informal science learning experiences — including museum and science center activities — are instrumental in raising students’ achievement in STEM subjects,” said museum public programs director Ann Craig, “but Oregon’s rural students face significant barriers to accessing these experiences.”

In response to this need and requests from educators around the state, the statewide program was launched in 2015 with support from The Coeta and Donald Barker Foundation and other partners. Since its inception, the program has reached schools and libraries in nearly every county in Oregon, serving more than 17,000 participants. The majority of the science learning experiences — 73 percent — have been delivered in rural communities.

Wyden said the combination of research and outreach makes the museum a special public resource.

“The research division helps to preserve Oregon’s rich cultural heritage, and the museum shares its wealth of historical knowledge with the community through its field schools and educational outreach programs,” he said.

Erlandson said he’s grateful to DeFazio and Wyden for helping put a spotlight on the museum’s work, calling it “a great honor” to be among the finalists.

“The 29 national medal finalists showcase the tremendous ability of libraries and museums to serve as vital community resources,” said Kathryn K. Matthew, director of the institute. “The Institute of Museum and Library Services is honored to recognize these leading institutions. We congratulate them on the work they are doing across the United States.”

Bend’s High Desert Museum also has been nominated and along with the UO museum is one of two Pacific Northwest finalists.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for U.S. libraries and museums and advances such organizations through grant making, research and policy development.

Finalists are chosen because of their significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. The institute encourages community members who have visited the Museum of Natural and Cultural History to share their stories on social media. To #ShareYourStory, visit www.facebook.com/USIMLS or www.twitter.com/us_imls and use #IMLSmedals.

National medal winners will be announced later this spring. Representatives from winning institutions will be honored for their contributions at the national medal ceremony May 24 in Washington, D.C.

—By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History