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Students find hands-on experience invaluable

8/12/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Without his graduate students, Curtis Schmidt said his job would be more difficult, indeed.

Schmidt, the zoology collections manager at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, gets a helping hand from his two graduate assistants, Brad Bott and Brian Tanis.

"Basically, they're my right-hand men," Schmidt said. "They've got their primary jobs, Brad being with his insects, Brian being mainly a curatorial assistant for the mammals. That's the bulk of their duties, but they do help out the museum in all those different ways."

One day late last month, for instance, the two graduate assistants were giving a behind-the-scenes tour deep into the bowels of Sternberg. They also spend a lot of time updating and cataloging the collection of specimens, making them available in an online database. They do a little bit of everything.

"We don't just do the catalog," Bott said. "We do the tours, like we did today. I go out and collect stuff for the exhibits.

"When those big dinosaurs from Africa came, I helped put them together. That was super cool," Bott said in reference to "Giants: African Dinosaurs"

Bott is the first entomology graduate student the museum has had.

"When I first got here, they said nobody worked on the bugs in 10 (or) 12 years," he said.

Each graduate assistantship lasts two years. Bott is just completing his first year, while Tanis -- a mammalogy assistant -- completes his second year this month.

Tanis said Sternberg has been a "good experience for a possible future career."

"Research-wise, I don't use it terribly much, but I've always liked working with museums and collections," Tanis said.

Sternberg's insect collection has proven invaluable for Bott's research. With the collection at Sternberg, Bott doesn't have to travel to look at specimens.

"It's awesome," he said. "It was especially helpful for the insects, to be able to get hands-on."

FHSU didn't always have a collections manager, or graduate assistants helping update the specimen collection.

"Basically, all the collections management was done by curators and volunteers," said Schmidt, who has been collections manager for a little more than a year.

Schmidt got his undergraduate and master's degrees at FHSU. He has been a volunteer-curator since 1998, the year before Sternberg moved from on campus to its present location on the northeast side of Hays.

Bott and Tanis help Schmidt in every way, "whether it be animal care, exhibit preparation, things like that."

"It also helps get them the variety of experience within the museum setting," Schmidt said.

Bott and Tanis have been working to get the museum's collection online, which has been an asset to the museum.

"In the museum world, that's the biggest thing right now," he said. "If you want to get funding anywhere, basically you have to have your collection searchable and easily accessible.

"It's invaluable for researchers throughout the world, because they can find out exactly what you've got at the click of a button."