Gathering a group of fourth graders around her, Utah State University educator Shannon Erickson asked the youngsters if they knew what a fossil was.
“It’s like when an ancient creature dies and sediment is left on top of them,” one child responded.
“They get preserved,” another answered. “They’re mostly hidden and you have to excavate and find them.”
“Great answers,” replied Erickson, coordinator of learning and engagement for the on-campus Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, as she led the students to a craft activity with clay to demonstrate how fossils are made. “One of the fun things you get to do as an artist is to be a scientist and, sometimes, a mathematician, too.”
Erickson, along with Chandra Carlson and other NEHMA staff, the USU Geology Museum and USU Museum of Anthropology, hosted the students from Utah’s Lewiston Elementary School for a campus visit Jan. 11, as part of the Tour Tuesdays program. Initiated by NEHMA at the start of the Fall 2021 semester and supported with the Utah State Board of Education’s Professional Outreach Program in the Schools’ funding, the monthly field trips enable children from throughout Cache Valley to experience interdisciplinary learning activities and to interact directly with university scholars.
“I believe field trips can change lives,” said Paul Jamison, collections manager with USU’s Department of Geosciences, who with department colleagues Carol Dehler and Ellen Imler guided the young students through the department’s outdoor Centennial Rock Garden. “All it takes is for one kid to connect with a mentor and an idea. I know, because it happened to me, when I was that age.”
Erickson recounts a similar experience.
“I was the child who couldn’t add in the fourth grade,” she said. “I felt very small and inadequate, but I started doing arts programs and my entire world opened up.”
The opportunity to explore learning from varied disciplines and discover one’s unique strengths creates a much richer experience for children, Erickson said.
“I believe together, we are better,” she said. “Collaboration takes a little more effort, but it has huge dividends. The children are always engaged and the feedback from teachers is very positive.
Dehler, a geosciences professor and the department’s undergraduate mentor, says collaborating with museums across campus provides an enjoyable and relatable experience for students.
“We hit topics that parallel the fourth-grade science curriculum, and students have the opportunity to explore these topics from different perspectives,” she said. “It gets the students excited about science and art and encourages them to ask questions.”
Tour Tuesdays are just a fraction of NEHMA’s outreach and educational efforts, which include a range of activities and resources provided for preschoolers to senior citizens. The departments of Geosciences and Anthropology also coordinate varied outreach efforts, including the former’s annual Rock ‘n’ Fossil Day and the latter’s Family 1st Saturdays and take-home “anthropaks.” Though currently curtailed by pandemic conditions, both activities are long-running local favorites.
“With our outreach aims, we follow a series of ‘E’s,” Dehler said. “Our goals are to explore, excite, engage and enhance — to create meaningful learning experiences for our community.”
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science
Coordinator of Learning & Engagement
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art
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