NHMU Volunteers move objects through the Museum.

NHMU Volunteers move objects through the Museum. ©NHMU

Volunteers During a Year of Pandemic

Volunteers Phillip, Randy, Dane, and Ann load fossils for transfer in our freight elevator. ©NHMU

By Nichelle O’Saurus

The Natural History Museum of Utah is lucky to have the support of an incredible corps of volunteers. Hundreds of dedicated members of our community donate their time and expertise every year to keeping NHMU top-notch, and they work in nearly every department of the Museum. In Collections and Research, volunteers spend time assessing, preparing, photographing, and databasing the 1.6 million objects in our care.

They spend time in the field searching for and collecting new objects for our collections. They contribute online to our efforts to digitize our collections. In Education and Community Engagement, volunteers interact with guests onsite and across the state – through small, every-day programs and during big community festivals. They support in-school programs and facilitate onsite classroom experiences for field trip guests and summer campers. They participate in and support our youth development programs. In Exhibits, our volunteer team cares for the live animals on display in our galleries. 

Male volunteer at table with sign that says "NHMU has the best volunteers in the world."

In Operations, volunteers help clear invasive weeds from our campus. In Philanthropy and Communications, volunteers support our membership program with mailings and database management. Many volunteers help run our annual fundraising gala. In 2019, we had 718 volunteers contribute 43,590 hours of service across all of these different assignments (that’s like having an extra 21 full time employees!).

In the past year, volunteering at the Museum has looked a little different. The Museum was closed for five months last year, and a great many of our volunteers haven’t been able to contribute to their regular assignments since March 2020. We had new volunteers join the ranks last spring who still haven’t had a chance to actually do what they signed up to do! Despite the dramatic shift from the norm, our volunteers have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support NHMU and to help us illuminate the natural world.

Last summer, our volunteers mobilized to sew over 1,000 cloth masks for use by staff, volunteers, and guests in need, to help keep us all safe while we are onsite at NHMU.

A group of 35 volunteers assisted our Community Outreach team in assembling 7,200 Curiosity Kits – anthropology- and paleontology-themed science kits that were distributed to Salt Lake County families through libraries and other community partners in lieu of in-person outreach engagement.

A group of collections volunteers helped to relocate, record, and rehouse 3,000 fossil specimens from the Geology & Geophysics Department on the University of Utah’s lower campus to their new permanent home in the Museum’s paleontology collection.

 Volunteers Kathy and Teresa help sort through thousands of fossils for transfer to NHMU collections.

Hundreds of people contributed to our online digitization projects last year, helping us to successfully digitize thousands of scientific records across four different collection areas. This online volunteer work contributed to 2020 being a record-breaking year for volunteers, even though the total time donated was lower than normal: we had an astounding 932 volunteers contribute 19,056 hours of service to the Museum last year.

Even though our volunteer engagement didn’t look the same in 2020 as it has looked in previous years, one thing remained a constant: our volunteer corps was tremendously important to our success. Through giving their time to unusual pop-up projects, contributing monetary donations to the Museum in our hour of need, being strong advocates for NHMU in their communities, and staying connected to the Museum through the volunteer program, our amazing volunteers helped the Museum accomplish some pretty incredible feats last year. A common refrain around the halls of NHMU is, “We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers.” That was no less true last year than it has been in the past.

Volunteers are slowly trickling back into their old roles. Paleontology fossil preparators are back in the prep lab; our creature care team is back onsite feeding and caring for our live animals; volunteers are beginning to return to collections spaces. We are looking forward to a continued slow-but-steady return to some form of normalcy in the volunteer program. We’re eager to get all of our volunteers back into their regular roles (and to be able to welcome new recruits to the volunteer program!). And as always, we remain incredibly grateful for the time, expertise, passion, and enthusiasm that our volunteers give so freely to NHMU.

Thank you, NHMU Volunteers!

Nichelle O’Saurus manages the volunteer program at the Natural History Museum of Utah, a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.

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