Master's Degree Graduate in Biology Focused on Science Outreach for Students
JONESBORO – "Kevin," the emu, welcomes visitors to the Laboratory Sciences Center every day.
Kari M. Harris of Paragould, who received her Master of Arts degree in biology Friday night at Arkansas State University, tells visitors that Kevin is part of what makes the Department of Biological Sciences so special.
Her involvement in the College of Sciences and Mathematics intensified last year when she and other students wanted to learn more about the natural history collections.
With the help of Dr. Travis Marsico, associate professor of botany and associate department chair, they set up an independent study course for learning collections techniques, creating standard operating procedures (SOPs), and working in the collections.
"It was clear that the work we were doing needed to extend beyond the end of the course," Harris recalled. "Also, we needed a funding source to supply materials necessary for curation of the collections, such as jars and alcohol for fish collections. To reach these goals, we created the Natural History Collections Curation Club (NHC3)," which became a registered student organization.
Club members have curated collections, created specimen displays such as the emu skeleton they named Kevin, and visited other natural history collections with behind the scenes tours at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.
Not to stop there, Harris and her fellow students got involved with leading tours for local high school students through A-State's collections, and visited local schools to share biodiversity information.
"The NHC3 ended up being more than just a club. This club has created opportunities for students to do things they couldn't do in a classroom," Harris continued. "It has provided its members with experiences that will make them unique and competitive job candidates. These students now have a new skill set as well as a connection to the community."
Many visiting grade school students have not been to a natural history museum and have little experience with natural history. "Providing these opportunities for grade school students is a very inexpensive way to expose them to science and promote the university while creating a unique learning experience for students at Arkansas State."
Harris doesn't stop at the edge of campus with her outreach work. Three other U.S. universities have created or revamped natural history collection clubs based on A-State's model, and others are interested. Meetings with those schools are on her agenda.
Her interests also have led to her involvement in the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), an international organization. Harris is chair for the Emerging Professionals Committee, which developed out of a group she started last year.
"Members of the EPC hope to provide professional development, support, and resources for emerging professionals in natural history fields," she explained.
Following graduation, Harris will work as student organization coordinator for the College of Sciences and Mathematics, working with clubs and organizations in science and math and helping them create authentic experiences for members.
"These organizations can really benefit the students and help them to get into graduate school and get into careers they love," she added. "They will be rewarded for projects and community outreach and encouraged to display their work in the Laboratory Sciences Center."
Harris's message to students will reflect her own experience and enrichment opportunities at Arkansas State.
"As an undergraduate I was a McNair scholar and before that I volunteered in a research lab. I very much encourage students to get involved in student organizations, take opportunities, and do research if at all possible."
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