GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 272-4
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


ESTES-SMARGIASSI, Kathryn, HENDY, Austin J.W. and VENDETTI, Jann, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007,

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Invertebrate Paleontology collection (LACMIP) is one of the largest in North America, with more than 7 million specimens. Digitizing collections of this size is not only daunting, but is also an expensive and time-intensive proposition. A National Science Foundation TCN grant to digitize marine invertebrate fossils from the Cenozoic of the Eastern Pacific (EPICC) requires the LACMIP to catalog nearly a million specimen records, and capture over 20,000 digital images. To complete this task in four years of the TCN, a sustainable intern and volunteer program was necessary. LACMIP is located offsite from the Natural History Museum, but fortunately accessible to several historically underserved community colleges and a minority-serving university, California State University Dominguez Hills. We have engaged educators and department administrators, in addition to geology and science clubs at these local schools to attract promising students.

These students begin their work at LACMIP as unpaid interns and undertake photography and cataloging for the EPICC project while receiving class credit. They not only engage in diverse collections tasks, but are also learning skills such as taxonomic identification, georeferencing, and biodiversity data management. They may continue working beyond a semester should they succeed and become paid, part-time assistants. This system keeps the LACMIP volunteer and internship program sustainable as it grows. Experienced students become a crucial part of the digitization workflow as they mentor new students and take on more challenging tasks.

The student intern program has also allowed LACMIP to reach many students who are members of groups that are underrepresented in the geosciences. In 2008, fewer than 200 Latino students received bachelor’s degrees in the geosciences in the U.S. About 50% of LACMIP students are Latino, and many others are non-traditional students (adults, mothers with children). This model of internship for credit followed by paid part-time work, targeted specifically at underserved colleges and universities, is one that could be replicated by other institutions to increase participation while taking advantage of capable and enthusiastic students.