More often than not, the volunteers I work with are students who are aspiring paleontologists/biologists/geologists. This weekend was a change of pace. One of VMNH’s research associates, Dr. Bill Schmachtenberg, brought two of his students from Ferrum College to help catalog Paleozoic invertebrates. These students, Jason and Paige, have a thirst for knowledge that extends beyond the bounds of their non-paleo/bio/geo majors.
Dr. Schmachtenberg teaches “Fossils and Geologic Time” at Ferrum College where he incorporates as many real-life examples of what he teaches in the classroom, such as fossils including archaeocyathids and olenellid trilobites. Dr. Schmachtenberg is able to incorporate these specimens due to the work he has conducted at VMNH. This past summer, he helped me reorganize and label the Paleozoic invertebrate collection. During this process, he noticed several specimens that he wanted to utilize in an education app that he’s been working on. You can read more about the app in his guest blog.
In addition to helping Dr. Schmachtenberg with his research, reorganizing the Paleozoic invertebrate collection created the opportunity for students with an interest in natural history and museums to take part in the curation of fossils. Dr. Schmachtenberg and I want to give several students the opportunity to work in the collections so we started with a small group to develop and test a cataloging and labeling workflow that would be easy to teach and have minimal room for error. Be it the success of the workflow or the talent of the students, but Jason and Paige took well to the instructions given and were able to work together to finish the specimens assigned to them with no errors in the data recorded.
With their success, we should be able to expand our efforts in order to invite more students to volunteer and to catalog more specimens at the same time. Even though these students are not aspiring paleontologists, biologists, or geologists, they are potential ambassadors for natural history museums everywhere. These students are learning the steps and care needed when handling fossil specimens and the importance of these specimens to science. In addition, thanks to Dr. Schmachtenberg’s efforts in sharing these fossils in the classroom, these students are also experiencing the influence of natural history collections in an educational setting.