SoRo Mountain TCN Field to Digital Object Workshop introduces undergraduate students to museum careers

Contributed by: J Ryan Allen, Dina Clark and Erin Tripp (University of Colorado)

This past May, the University of Colorado Herbarium in conjunction with the Navajo Herbarium, Northern Arizona University, San Juan College, and Fort Lewis College hosted a Field to Digital Object Workshop at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico. Nineteen students from the lead institutions, Dine College, and the Northwestern Indian College in Washington State participated. This 4-day event provided exposure to both botanical specimen field collection and museum curation practices, including digitization. The workshop began on Navajo Tribal Lands where Arnold Clifford, co-author of the Flora of the Four Corners Region, shared both his taxonomic and ethnobotanical expertise. For each species encountered, he provided the scientific name followed by the Navajo name and the traditional Navajo use, while students listened intently.  The Chicago Botanic Gardens, another contributor to the workshop, introduced participants to Project Budburst, a citizen-science plant phenology program.

Back at San Juan College, students were introduced to plant systematics, dichotomous keys for species identification, and specimen preparation. The value and importance of museum collections and collections-based research were emphasized during training sessions. Students were furthermore introduced to the field of biodiversity informatics including the utility of databases, georeferencing, niche modeling, and best practices for sharing digital specimen data with the greater scientific community. Student feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive, with divided opinions only regarding which component was the favorite. They were unanimous in agreement, however, in wanting the workshop to have been much longer in duration, with eagerness to participate in similar workshops in the future.  Based on student feedback, a highlight was Arnold Clifford’s Navajo land ethnobotanical teachings. Workshop support was provided by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (Award # 1702516, “Using Herbarium Data to Document Plant Niches in the High Peaks and High Plains of the Southern Rockies - Past, Present, and Future”) . We are especially grateful to Nora Talkington (Navajo Herbarium, Northern Arizona University), Dr. Ross McCauley and Emily Swindell (Ft. Lewis College), Dr. Ken Heil and Adriano Tsinigine (San Juan College), Arnold Clifford, and Jessa Finch (Chicago Botanic Gardens) for helping us both plan and implement this highly successful workshop.