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NMSU students develop outreach program for wildlife museum

New Mexico State University students have implemented educational outreach programs for the wildlife museum in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.


Kids looking at bird specimens
New Mexico State University wildlife science major Heather Herndon taught a lesson on birds at Alamogordo Public Schools? La Luz Elementary in La Luz, New Mexico as part of an educational outreach program she implemented for the NMSU Wildlife Museum. (NMSU photo by Alexa Davis)
Three children wearing paper bird beaks
Students at Alamogordo Public Schools? La Luz Elementary in La Luz, New Mexico created paper bird beaks during a lesson on birds by New Mexico State University wildlife science major Heather Herndon as part of an educational outreach program she implemented for the NMSU Wildlife Museum. (NMSU photo by Alexa Davis

As part of an internship class with the NMSU Wildlife Museum, the students are required to create a program in which they provide educational lessons at schools or other public venues.

Jennifer Frey, museum curator and college associate professor in the NMSU Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology, hopes the internships will help achieve her goal for the museum to increase its outreach education.

?The museum itself is located in a working lab on campus, so it?s not always available to the public,? Frey said. ?In order to increase our outreach, I?ve implemented a new class called Wildlife Museum Internship that college students can enroll in to gain hands-on experience working in the museum.?

The museum is home to more than 6,000 specimens, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fishes, most of which are from southern New Mexico. Some of the specimens date as far back as the early 1900s.

Frey said creating outreach programs has been an invaluable experience for her students.

?It?s important for the students to be actively involved in the development of these programs, as it gives them a kind of experience they can?t really get in any other kinds of classes,? Frey said. ?This is a real exercise in which they?ll actually be talking to the public. In order to present factual information, they need to be able to do thorough research. So, they get experience doing that research and putting together a program that synthesizes that information in a way that the public can understand.?

The students must be able to present the information so that individuals who do not have a background in wildlife, biology or science can understand it.

Senior wildlife science major Heather Herndon was enrolled in the class last semester. She implemented an educational program about birds that she presented at an elementary school.

?I talked to the kids about the fact that all these birds have different beaks, and they?re so unique,? Herndon said. ?I just tried to get the kids to think critically about birds and to get them excited about wildlife.?

Herndon delivered her lesson through various methods, including speaking to the kids, showing visuals and having the students actually see and touch the specimens. She educated third- through fifth-grade students about how the different birds obtain their food depending on their beaks.

At the end of her presentation, Herndon included a craft segment, in which each student cut out a uniquely shaped bird beak, tied it around his or her face with a string and wore it like a mask.

?The students would come up to me and say, ?I?m a cardinal and I eat nuts? or ?I?m a crane and I live in the bosque,?? Herndon said. ?It was really cool to see the kids connect the information that they learned to the crafts and the bird specimens. It works, because everyone learns differently. You can see birds in a zoo, but it?s so different when you can see them up close and touch them, hold them, look at their feathers and ask questions. It?s very hands-on, and it?s really exciting.?

Herndon added that the experience of developing a program on her own will be beneficial in the future.

?You have to do it yourself,? she said. ?You don?t have someone taking you along the way and helping you out. I spent lots of nights researching in the library and fact-checking and asking professors about information, collaborating with other people to figure out the best way to get information to kids.?

The most rewarding aspect for Herndon was witnessing kids learn something new and get excited about wildlife.

New outreach opportunities will be available soon, as students enrolled in the class this semester develop their own programs.

Frey said the program will expand in other ways as well.

?The Bureau of Land Management and NMSU will cooperate to develop outreach education programs about the wildlife of the Organ Mountains and the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument,? Frey said.

For more information about the museum, please contact Frey at jfrey@nmsu.edu or 575-646-3395.