Falling Bricks and a Broken Elevator: The Journey to Open Cherish Nebraska
Visitors to the University of Nebraska State Museum are enjoying the new exhibit floor that opened last month. Cherish Nebraska features seven galleries that celebrate the state’s diverse natural history and the science behind our unique ecosystems. In this episode of Faculty 101, we look at back at the sometimes rocky journey to open the new exhibit floor and the community of experts who helped make Cherish Nebraska a reality.
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[00:00:03.280]You can hear the rattlesnake,
[00:00:05.530]and five-year-old Millie Jo is wide-eyed.
[00:00:09.847]Oh, that's a rattlesnake!
[00:00:12.583]That's a rattlesnake.
[00:00:13.570]She crawls into a giant log, where she can see a replica
[00:00:17.130]of a prairie rattlesnake coiled in its den.
[00:00:20.500]He can't go anywhere?
[00:00:26.496]I see you, rattlesnake.
[00:00:28.383]It's so cool.
[00:00:30.860]Millie Jo is here with her sister and baby brother,
[00:00:33.420]her mom and grandpa.
[00:00:34.960]They are among the first visitors to Cherish Nebraska,
[00:00:38.260]the new exhibit floor at Morrell Hall,
[00:00:40.620]home of the University of Nebraska State Museum.
[00:00:44.000]Mary Jo Garrick, Millie Jo's mom,
[00:00:46.350]says it's the perfect family activity.
[00:00:49.310]Like they can run and they can play and they can explore.
[00:00:52.070]Cherish Nebraska is a tour
[00:00:53.880]of the state's unique ecosystems, past and present.
[00:00:58.150]Museum Director Susan Weller says it's an opportunity
[00:01:01.380]to learn more about the diversity in our own backyard.
[00:01:05.270]This floor celebrates Nebraska,
[00:01:08.650]our natural history and connections
[00:01:12.400]to our cultural heritage, our diverse cultural heritage,
[00:01:16.260]I should point out, and further,
[00:01:19.320]it's really an exploration of not only science content,
[00:01:24.380]what animals were here, what plants and so on.
[00:01:27.560]But how do we know?
[00:01:29.110]How do we actually know these things were here,
[00:01:33.940]and who studies this, anyway?
[00:01:36.280]Through seven galleries,
[00:01:37.720]visitors can watch scientists at work.
[00:01:40.460]They come face-to-face
[00:01:41.750]with a prehistoric saber-toothed predator
[00:01:44.190]that attacked camels and horses across Nebraska
[00:01:47.210]about seven million years ago.
[00:01:49.700]Is that guy pretty cool?
[00:01:51.300]Children can run through a model of a cottonwood tree,
[00:01:54.220]build a sand dune, and play video games
[00:01:57.010]to learn what it was like to be a Paleo Indian.
[00:02:02.340]There are fossils, parasites,
[00:02:04.550]a replica of the extinct giant bison.
[00:02:08.790]It's a place where education meets fun.
[00:02:12.005]Daddy, there's a fish!
[00:02:13.930]And on opening day, six-year-old Grayson
[00:02:16.540]is already planning his next visit.
[00:02:19.390]I wanna come back again doing this.
[00:02:23.800]But let's pause for a moment and go back in time.
[00:02:26.861](audio recording playing backward)
[00:02:29.220]It's mid-January and I'm sitting in Susan Weller's office.
[00:02:33.000]As I mentioned earlier, she's the museum director
[00:02:35.470]and also a professor of entomology.
[00:02:38.070]At this point, almost two months ago,
[00:02:40.520]the fourth floor is organized chaos.
[00:02:45.210]Grab the lights.
[00:02:46.285]There are boxes everywhere.
[00:02:48.540]Workers are installing windows and painting exhibits.
[00:02:51.991]Oh, and the elevator is broken.
[00:02:54.820]There's still so much to happen.
[00:02:57.680]Deep breath, all will be well.
[00:02:59.610]All will be well.
[00:03:00.443]We will get there.
[00:03:02.020]And you know what?
[00:03:03.120]We're going to open whether we're ready or not.
[00:03:05.470]So there you are.
[00:03:07.000]And yes, Cherish Nebraska opened its doors on schedule.
[00:03:11.470]But how did it happen?
[00:03:13.560]I'm Mary Jane Bruce, and this is Faculty 101.
[00:03:18.370]Okay, you should switch partners now.
[00:03:19.270]To be able to inspire young people.
Today's your final.
[00:03:23.710]It's really rewarding.
I love the students.
[00:03:26.740]Welcome to Faculty 101,
[00:03:28.990]life hacks and success stories from Nebraska faculty.
[00:03:35.230]Cherish Nebraska is open for business
[00:03:37.500]and bustling with activity.
[00:03:40.930]But before this massive renovation,
[00:03:43.120]the floor had been closed to the public since 1961.
[00:03:50.210]For the last 50 years,
[00:03:51.690]the fourth floor has been used for classrooms and lab space,
[00:03:55.220]faculty offices and storage.
[00:03:57.900]It even housed art exhibits at one time.
[00:04:00.570]Susan Weller's predecessor,
[00:04:02.190]former museum director Priscilla Grew,
[00:04:05.030]stated the ball rolling.
[00:04:06.620]Well, as Priscilla was looking at different options,
[00:04:10.160]she spoke with some of our dear friends and donors
[00:04:13.500]and just basically posed the question,
[00:04:17.297]"If we could reimagine that fourth floor,
[00:04:20.817]"what should we put up there?
[00:04:22.487]"What would excite you about this project?"
[00:04:27.060]And they settled on Cherish Nebraska.
[00:04:35.980]Opening an 11,000 square foot museum floor is a huge job,
[00:04:40.730]requiring lots of expertise and money,
[00:04:44.060]which is why it rarely happens.
[00:04:46.030]Usually, museum directors will really feels fortunate
[00:04:51.290]if she or he has the opportunity to redo one major gallery,
[00:04:58.800]you know, in every 10 years.
[00:05:03.030]We are talking, there are seven galleries
[00:05:05.230]worth of stuff up there.
[00:05:07.430]The $11.4 million project was privately funded.
[00:05:11.240]The museum leaned heavily on UNL faculty
[00:05:14.110]to develop themes for the seven galleries,
[00:05:16.530]create content, and provide guidance along the way.
[00:05:20.040]As the project grew, other experts were pulled in.
[00:05:23.850]We have people from Nebraska Game and Parks,
[00:05:26.710]we have from Audubon, National Audubon,
[00:05:30.066]the natural resources districts and RDs,
[00:05:33.880]Department of Resources, of course, Lincoln Parks,
[00:05:39.620]Omaha sustainability people, my goodness,
[00:05:43.790]and then of course,
[00:05:44.623]faculty from Nebraska University at large,
[00:05:49.380]the four campuses.
[00:05:52.060]And so sometimes it was as simple as, you know,
[00:05:55.250]this person is the expert on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
[00:05:59.110]Contact them, get the story straight.
[00:06:02.930]And I should say that our parasitologist network
[00:06:06.890]was global, so we were also bothering people (laughing)
[00:06:11.170]all over the place for answers,
[00:06:13.530]checking that we were being scientifically accurate.
[00:06:19.300]Cherish Nebraska is also a multimedia experience.
[00:06:24.900]In one of the galleries,
[00:06:25.970]you can hear the sounds of a Sand Hills thunderstorm,
[00:06:29.990]the singing of a meadowlark, or the chirping of crickets.
[00:06:36.350]Mary Jo, the mom I introduced earlier in the episode,
[00:06:39.610]was impressed by a huge lighted globe
[00:06:42.400]that plays custom videos in a theater-like setting.
[00:06:45.870]It was so cool, that globe over there.
[00:06:47.790]That was really exciting.
[00:06:49.510]Northern Lights' Productions of Boston
[00:06:51.360]created the multimedia globe experience.
[00:06:54.210]The Washington, DC firm Gallagher and Associates
[00:06:57.030]designed the exhibit, and it was fabricated
[00:06:59.730]by Pacific Studio of Seattle.
[00:07:02.280]Nebraskans were in the driver's seat.
[00:07:04.820]Frankly, this was a labor of love.
[00:07:07.440]They gave of their time, their expertise,
[00:07:10.840]and I feel so very, very fortunate
[00:07:13.030]that the community came together to support this project.
[00:07:16.120]Everybody owns that fourth floor.
[00:07:17.940]That's another piece is that it really is of the community,
[00:07:22.560]for the community, by the community.
[00:07:27.630]The journey to open Cherish Nebraska was sometimes
[00:07:30.409]a little rocky.
[00:07:32.200]During construction, brick walls had to be removed
[00:07:35.350]and Dr. Weller had to put up with some noise.
[00:07:38.280]The bricks all had to be, you know,
[00:07:40.190]they had to go down the chute,
[00:07:41.410]which was the window right above this window.
[00:07:44.260]So I would be on the phone talking to people
[00:07:46.530]and all of a sudden it'd be like an avalanche.
[00:07:48.240]I'd be like, Excuse me hold on.
[00:07:49.760]We have to wait.
[00:07:50.780]The bricks are going.
[00:07:54.030]And then there's the elevator.
[00:07:56.110]It broke down just two months before opening day.
[00:07:59.240]While the building got a new elevator,
[00:08:00.870]construction staff found inventive ways to keep going.
[00:08:04.780]I've been a nervous wreck watching all these expensive
[00:08:08.550]exhibit components go up on a forklift
[00:08:12.090]and be hauled through windows.
[00:08:16.360]And then they said, "Oh, you know the globe's too big.
[00:08:19.957]"It can't go through the window."
[00:08:22.200]And I went, well, what are we doing?
[00:08:24.390]And they said, "Oh, we'll just carry it up.
[00:08:26.067]"It's only a hundred pounds."
[00:08:30.550]I don't take Valium,
[00:08:31.650]but I was seriously thinking I might need to.
[00:08:37.490]But on opening day, everything is in place.
[00:08:40.750]There's the extinct giant bison that used to graze
[00:08:43.280]in prehistoric Nebraska.
[00:08:45.030]Here's a wall of parasites in jars.
[00:08:47.610]And in the science exploration zone,
[00:08:49.860]children can channel their inner scientist
[00:08:52.290]with a variety of activities.
[00:08:54.500]Visitors can also learn about the museum's vast collections
[00:08:58.350]that house millions of valuable objects
[00:09:00.910]used for research and education.
[00:09:03.490]Only a fraction of the specimens are on display,
[00:09:06.530]but what's behind the scenes is important.
[00:09:09.650]Scientific discovery starts with collecting information,
[00:09:14.760]and in the case of myself and my colleagues,
[00:09:18.270]the basic information we're collecting is embedded
[00:09:21.900]in objects, in specimens of insects
[00:09:26.210]or plants or other animals.
[00:09:28.880]Collections provide evidence of diversity
[00:09:31.270]in the natural world and how ecosystems
[00:09:33.540]have evolved over time.
[00:09:35.330]It's simply stunning, I have never...
[00:09:36.940]John Janovy is a retired professor
[00:09:38.850]from the UNL School of Biological Sciences.
[00:09:41.940]On his first visit to the new exhibit floor,
[00:09:44.470]Dr. Janovy is impressed
[00:09:45.970]by the substantial educational content.
[00:09:48.830]He says Cherish Nebraska will redefine Nebraska
[00:09:51.700]and the Great Plains for countless visitors.
[00:09:54.510]They will look at the skull and say,
[00:09:56.387]"Wow, that came from Nebraska?"
[00:09:58.620]it suddenly expands your sense of what that word Nebraska
[00:10:04.000]and by extension what that word the Great Plains,
[00:10:07.870]that term really means.
[00:10:10.200]Cherish Nebraska also challenges visitors to learn
[00:10:13.230]how they can protect the state's precious natural resources
[00:10:16.890]of air, water, and soil.
[00:10:19.110]We are using Nebraska as a lens on the world,
[00:10:23.670]and so truly, the exhibits, although we use local examples,
[00:10:28.760]they address global patterns and global questions.
[00:10:38.672]I think that that's a beaver.
[00:10:41.570]For Grayson and other visitors,
[00:10:43.500]Cherish Nebraska is a place of wonder.
[00:10:47.120]And then I see this right here,
[00:10:48.957]which is very cool.
[00:10:50.320]We see this as a magnificent beginning
[00:10:54.190]of a rebirth of the museum,
[00:10:56.560]and it will hopefully set the stage
[00:11:00.810]for the next 50 plus years.
[00:11:05.380]That's it for this episode of Faculty 101.
[00:11:08.170]In the show notes, we link to the museum website,
[00:11:10.700]where you can get information and plan your visit.
[00:11:15.230]Next time on the podcast,
[00:11:17.100]how injury changed one professor's artistic expression.
[00:11:21.510]But that injury allowed me to see the world differently.
[00:11:24.440]Faculty 101 is produced
[00:11:26.120]by the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
[00:11:33.120]Creepy, the rattlesnake's creepy.
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