NU State Museum Names Inaugural Voorhies Endowed Curator
Paleontologist Ashley Poust’s work will focus on Ashfall Fossil Beds
Paleontologist Ashley Poust has been selected as the inaugural Dr. Michael and Jane Voorhies Endowed Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Nebraska State Museum.
The endowed curatorship was established through a $2 million gift from the Hubbard Family Foundation in recognition of the longtime service of Michael “Mike” Voorhies and his wife, Jane. Mike is a professor emeritus in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and curator emeritus at the University of Nebraska State Museum.
The gift, which establishes a permanently endowed fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, honors the couple’s discovery, research and help in developing Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park near Royal, Nebraska, into one of the premier mammal fossil sites in the world. The 360-acre historical park is a working research site, where paleontologists dig and prepare unearthed fossils.
“This transformative gift from the Hubbard Family Foundation honors the scientific legacy of Mike Voorhies and his wife, Jane, who is his soulmate and scientific collaborator,” said Susan Weller, director of the University of Nebraska State Museum. “I am so grateful that the museum’s vertebrate paleontology research collection and Ashfall Fossil Beds will continue to thrive thanks to this endowed curatorship. Ashley is an accomplished researcher and science communicator — just like Mike. The next 30 years of research at Ashfall Fossil Beds will be shaped by him and his future students.”
Poust most recently served as a postdoctoral researcher at the San Diego Natural History Museum. He collaborated on efforts to identify a jaw in the museum’s fossil collection, leading to the discovery, announced in 2022, of one of the earliest saber-tooth predators. Diegoaelurus, or “San Diego’s cat,” an animal about the size of a bobcat, existed 42 million years ago in the humid forests around modern-day San Diego.
Poust, who attended high school in Bettendorf, Iowa, obtained a bachelor’s degree in geology and French from Augustana College, a master’s degree in earth sciences from Montana State University and a doctorate in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley.
At the University of Nebraska State Museum, Poust will oversee management of the museum’s extensive fossil collection, with a focus on Ashfall Fossil Beds. He will also educate and train students and collaborate with public programs staff to ensure sound science for paleontology exhibits and K-12 programming. He begins his new position Nov. 1.
“The museum, with its incredible collections, provides a unique and powerful window into the past and an essential tool for understanding the future,” Poust said. “My first fossil-hunting expedition in college was to Nebraska. These fossils helped inspire my subsequent career, and I’m overjoyed to be back in the state.”
The endowed curatorship will be a resource to help the university retain and recruit top paleontologists in perpetuity.
“The Hubbard Family Foundation was inspired to create the endowed curatorship to honor Michael and Jane Voorhies for their important contributions to the field of vertebrate paleontology and to invest in the future of the Nebraska State Museum and its extraordinary fossil collection,” said Ted Hubbard Jr., president of the Hubbard Family Foundation. “My hope is that, through this investment, future generations of students will have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate Nebraska’s unique scientific story.”
Ashfall Fossil Beds is a joint program of the University of Nebraska State Museum and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Most of the 18 species of vertebrates discovered at the park are preserved as they were when they died. The animal fossils are viewable within the protection of the Hubbard Rhino Barn, with the barrel-bodied rhino and five species of horses being the most common skeleton fossils. The species found there were common in North America 10 million to 12 million years ago.
Established in 1871, the University of Nebraska State Museum is the state’s premier museum of natural history. The museum’s mission is to promote the discovery of the natural world and world cultures through research, museum collections, learner-centered educational programs and public exhibitions. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Affiliate.
About Mike and Jane Voorhies
Mike and Jane Voorhies are credited with discovering the site of Ashfall Fossil Beds and helping to develop it into a leading paleontology research area open to the public. During a hike in 1971, they came across a fossilized animal skull eroding out of a creek slope carved by water erosion.
With funding from the National Geographic Society, Mike directed a major excavation of the site during the summers of 1978 and 1979. He helped to convince the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation to purchase the land encompassing the excavation site in 1986, which then opened to the public as a state park in 1991. The site was declared a National Natural Landmark in 2006, and the Hubbard Rhino Barn, an onsite public viewing enclosure for continued paleontological excavation, was constructed and opened in 2009.
After retiring from the university in 2008, Mike continued research at Ashfall for another decade. The couple lives in Lincoln.
“We are profoundly grateful to Ted Hubbard for his support for the museum over several decades,” the couple said in a joint statement. “We hope that this generous gift will allow the museum to continue to inspire new generations of young Nebraskans.”
About the Hubbard family
Theodore “Ted” F. and Claire M. Hubbard were longtime Omaha residents and philanthropists. Ted Hubbard was a graduate of the University of Nebraska, receiving a bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Medicine in 1946.
The Hubbards moved to Omaha in 1953, where they raised two children, Anne and Theodore Jr. Ted, a pioneer in the field of cardiology, served his entire career in Omaha, helping people in Nebraska and western Iowa. He died in 1995, and Claire died in 2011.
The Hubbard Family Foundation has supported numerous initiatives at the University of Nebraska State Museum and Ashfall Fossil Beds. The gift was made as part of Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future, a historic initiative to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska. For more information, visit https://onlyinnebraska.org.