UO science museum is awarded highest national honor

First published in Around the O on May 1.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services announced May 1 that the Museum of Natural and Cultural History has won a 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries.

Nominated for the medal by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden, both Oregon Democrats, the museum is among 10 2018 medalists nationwide and is the sole West Coast recipient.

The honor recognizes the ways that the UO museum serves Oregon communities, with special focus on its statewide educational outreach program. The museum's program, which travels to K-8 classrooms and public libraries, brings fossils, artifacts, and lively science lessons to communities around Oregon.

The lessons emphasize inquiry-based learning, investigation of objects from the museum’s teaching collections and new perspectives stemming from research at the museum and the wider UO.

“This award is a well-deserved honor, not only for the museum’s incredible exhibits but also its cutting-edge research, quality education programming and its standing as a valuable community resource,” DeFazio said. “I applaud the museum for their recognition and will continue to push for federal resources to help further their exceptional work.”

The award will be presented at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. May 24.

Jon Erlandson, the museum’s executive director, and Jami Young, a school librarian with the Central Point School District, will accept the award on behalf of the museum.

Central Point is among the Oregon school districts that have used the museum’s outreach program since its inception in 2015. During the award ceremony, Young will provide a personal account of the effect the programs have had in her community.

“The museum’s impacts on our students have been nothing short of amazing,” Young said. “I’ve seen the programs ignite a passion for science among struggling readers and other children who are going through the motions at school, helping them transform into inquisitive, motivated students.”

Since its inception, the program has reached schools and libraries in nearly every county of Oregon, serving almost 20,000 individuals. The majority of these learning experiences — 73 percent — have been delivered in rural communities with limited access to museums and informal science learning opportunities.

“This well-deserved award is truly a testament to the hard work, dedication and commitment to public service by the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History,” Sen. Wyden said. “As a proud Duck, as an Oregonian and as the son of a librarian, I know firsthand just how valuable these institutions are to our state. These public resources continue to enrich our communities and encourage a commitment to higher learning for people of all ages.”

Erlandson called it “a great honor” to be nominated by Rep. DeFazio and Sen. Wyden and recognized by the institute.

"Whether we're digging through the dirt and rocks to glimpse the deep past or inspiring tomorrow's scientists through exhibits and outreach, the MNCH is committed to learning, sharing, and stewarding stories of Earth's environments and cultures,” he said. “We’re delighted to celebrate this work with the communities we serve.”

U.S. Sen Jeff Merkley, also an Oregon Democrat, recently congratulated the museum on the honor.

“The museum has earned this prestigious award for its work showing not just who we are as Oregonians, but who we have been,” he said. “As we face challenging times, the museum’s work illuminating the past is more important than ever in guiding our future.”

Following the ceremony, StoryCorps, a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving and sharing the stories of Americans, will visit Eugene to gather community members’ stories of how the museum has affected their lives. The stories will be preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

For a complete list of 2018 recipients and to learn more about the National Medal winners, visit the institute website.

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.

—By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History