Get Your Hands on Nebraska’s History
Cherish Nebraska explores the future of science by interacting with its past
Posted: Mon, Jul 1, 2019
Michela Wipf will always cherish the day in March when she chaperoned her fourth-grade daughter’s class field trip to Lincoln.
The highlight, Wipf says, was touring the newly renovated fourth-floor exhibit space at the University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall — a state-of-the-art space called Cherish Nebraska — and watching her daughter Lilli, in her pink pants and pixie haircut, explore all the galleries with her young hands and brain.
Lilli studied rocks and fossils and feathers under microscopes. She learned about climate change from a story being told on a five-foot digital globe. She learned about little parasites that live inside the guts of fish and about animals of all kinds, from all eras of Nebraska’s fascinating natural history. She even got to observe a real scientist in action through the Visible Lab windows.
Lilli wants to be a scientist herself when she grows up. So it was a day, Wipf says, that her daughter will probably always cherish, too.
“I think I took about 100 photos,” says Wipf, who runs a photography studio in Weeping Water, Nebraska. “I loved seeing Lilli and her best friend in that tunnel where they could pop their heads out. Then I loved watching all the kids sticking their hands in the mouth of that — I think it was a mountain lion — and pretend to get eaten. That was cool. Their expressions were priceless. I just loved watching Lilli interact with all the computers that were everywhere.
“I just loved the entire thing. I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to Morrill Hall before. And then walking into the fourth floor, I just could not believe how many interactive projects there were. There was something for everybody.”
The privately funded Cherish Nebraska, which opened in February, celebrates the state’s natural heritage as it has been shaped over the millennia. Visitors of all ages can immerse themselves in the exciting world of scientific discovery while learning about the university’s research on all of its campuses.
Susan Weller, Ph.D., the museum’s director, says a goal of Cherish Nebraska is to inspire kids like Lilli and her young classmates from Weeping Water Elementary School to consider careers someday in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“You can’t aspire to have a career you don’t know about or haven’t tried out,” Weller says. “Cherish Nebraska opens visitors’ eyes to the diverse kinds of STEM careers out there — in a fun, engaging way. Who knew there’s a career studying fish guts to discover parasites? Or that you could be paid to collect snow to predict spring melt runoff?
“We’ve heard many stories of how visits to the museum inspired careers in a variety of science professions. For those who didn’t become scientists, the museum still has been central to their appreciation of fossils and other wonders of the natural world. Our hands-on science exploration zone encourages children to be scientists themselves, ask questions and search for answers. Our visitors are encouraged to ‘do’ science — that’s the most fun part.”
Morrill Hall served more than 94,700 visitors in fiscal year 2018, Weller says, and about 23,000 of those were Nebraska students. Morrill Hall also served an additional 4,900 students with its virtual field trip science programs.
Lead donors for Cherish Nebraska are The Hubbard Foundations, the Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Endowment, Nebraska Environmental Trust and Ruth and Bill Scott. Others supporting it include Karen Amen and Jim Goeke, The Dillon Foundation, Friends of the Museum, Kimmel Foundation, Dr. Mark B. and Diann S. Sorensen, Sunderland Foundation, Ron and Lynn Tanner, Larry and Sue Wood and Dr. Arthur and Christine Zygielbaum.
Until the opening of Cherish Nebraska, the fourth floor of Morrill Hall had been closed to the public for more than 50 years.
Wipf says her daughter had been looking forward to going to Morrill Hall because her dad had been talking it up to her for months. He’d told Lilli how, when he was a kid, he and his father would send fossils they found exploring the creek beds around Weeping Water to the scientists at Morrill Hall.
After going to Morrill Hall that March day,
Wipf says, Lilli came home and talked it up to her little sisters.
“Lilli absolutely loved it,” she says. “She was so excited that she came home and told her dad and her twin sisters all about it. Of course, the fourth floor was the main topic. She even wanted me to buy a season’s pass.”
The family, she says, is now planning a return trip to Morrill Hall this summer.
“It’s just such an amazing museum,” Wipf says. “Honestly, I think a lot of kids who go there will now consider more science careers because of how interactive it is — we probably could have spent three or four hours just on the fourth floor.
“We can’t wait to go back.”