May 25, 2011

Burke Museum boosts student engagement with new advisory board

The Burke Museums latest after-hours party featured well-dressed folks who mingled among the stunning photographs and natural history exhibits. But these were not beloved donors or affiliated faculty — they were students.

Members of the Student Advisory Board at After Hours, May 11, 2011.  Back row from left: Maria Larsen, Tyler Dunn, Russell Pharr, Jonathan Calede. Front row from left: Mollie Holmberg, Addie Antonsen, Sadie Wendler, Jessica Hutton, Mary Jane Topash, Yin Zhang, Jordan Gallivan. Members not pictured: Angela Tsang, Bridget Bradshaw, Cecilia Gobin, Jacinta Heath, Jaime Yazzie.

Burke Student Advisory Board

Members of the Student Advisory Board at After Hours, May 11, 2011. Back row from left: Maria Larsen, Tyler Dunn, Russell Pharr, Jonathan Calede. Front row from left: Mollie Holmberg, Addie Antonsen, Sadie Wendler, Jessica Hutton, Mary Jane Topash, Yin Zhang, Jordan Gallivan. Members not pictured: Angela Tsang, Bridget Bradshaw, Cecilia Gobin, Jacinta Heath, Jaime Yazzie.

They werent there as part of a class or academic program, as is often the case. The people who snacked, sipped drinks — and even dissected a few owl pellets for fun — on Wednesday, May 11, were members of the museums new Student Advisory Board, created to increase student awareness of and engagement with the museum across the UW campus.

The board was organized in October by Karin Moughamer, the museums campus outreach coordinator. It has 18 members, chosen from about 40 student applications by no means limited to science alone.

“Its a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate students studying biology, anthropology, archaeology, art history, history, paleontology and American Indian studies, to name a few,” Moughamer wrote in an email. “Each of the classes is represented, from freshmen to second-year Ph.D. students. Some of the students graduated fall quarter, but otherwise all of the students have remained committed all year.”

Burke Student Advisory Board member Russell Pharr helps students at After Hours identify small mammal and bird bones at the owl pellet dissection table.

Burke Student Advisory Board

Burke Student Advisory Board member Russell Pharr helps students at After Hours identify small mammal and bird bones at the owl pellet dissection table.

The new board serves a number of purposes related to boosting student awareness of the museum, Moughamer said. Its members work with staff on outreach, promote Burke exhibits and programs to fellow students, advise museum staff on how better to engage with the student population and even provide input on selecting exhibits and programs.

Members of the student board serve yearlong terms lasting from November to June, and get the option to return the next year. The board meets monthly and has committees for membership, marketing and outreach that meet every other week.

Moughamer said many of those who volunteered for the board “are now volunteering in collections, gaining professional experience that one day they hope will land them a job in a museum.”

One of these is Jessica Hutton, a senior double-majoring in anthropology and history, who has her eye on museum work in the future.

“I became interested in museum education and began to volunteer at the Burke last summer to get some experience for my resume,” Hutton wrote in an email, adding, “Museum work is notoriously hard to come by, so I wanted to get a head start.”

Through her volunteering and board work, Hutton said, “Ive come to care about the museum and its mission deeply; Im glad to put time and effort into helping out and I enjoy my time at the museum. Though I may have started at the Burke to gain job experience, Ive gotten much more out of my work.”

Hutton noted that another role of the student group is “empowering students to realize the connections between all life — and act accordingly,” a notion very much reflected in the Burkes values of education and conservation.

“In planning events and programs for the student community, we keep these values in mind and try to infuse them into our work. We believe it is important to address the larger questions of ‘Why does this matter? ‘Why is it interesting? and ‘Why should I personally care about this? whether were planning an evening event for students to enjoy themselves or setting up outreach tables in the dorms.”

Indeed, student outreach and involvement at the Burke is growing. Students volunteer in many capacities at the museum, faithfully and enthusiastically attend the museums monthly natural science trivia nights, and write lively entries in the Burkes delightfully silly BurkeBlog.

Moughamer, the Burke outreach coordinator, said its been “a wonderful experience” to work with the student newcomers on the advisory board.

“It has been amazing to watch this group of students, many of whom didnt know each other when they started, build friendships, engage with museum staff,” she said, “and transform into true advocates of the museum.”

Of student assistance at the Burke, Director Julie Stein said, “The Burke Museum holds in trust over 14 million objects for the entire UW community.  UW students and faculty have full access to these objects and can use them to answer critical questions that we haven’t even thought of yet.”