On July 14, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette announced on their website that they will partner with the Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) to operate the Lafayette Science Museum.
The Lafayette Science Museum will now be known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Science Museum.
According to the announcement, “UL Lafayette’s plans for the downtown museum include expanded, cross-disciplinary exhibitions, enhanced programs and resources to engage learners of all ages, a café, gift shop, and public event rental options.”
LCG and the UL Lafayette School of Geoscience have had an intergovernmental agreement since 2013 that allows the university to manage the UL Lafayette Geology Museum, which is located inside the science museum.
Jennifer Hargrave, who holds a doctorate in geology with a focus in vertebrate paleontology, is the UL Lafayette Science Museum director and a senior instructor in the School of Geosciences. She said before the partnership, the museum already had the UL Lafayette Geology Museum, and the School of Geoscience had some storage areas for minerals, fossils and rocks along with a paleo lab located inside the science museum.
Interested students, both geology and non-geology majors, would also volunteer in the paleo lab and the museum.
For the first time last fall, Hargrave taught a museum methods class in the science museum as a part of the new paleontology concentration in geology. The students completely designed the exhibit “Natural Born Killers”, which is about dinosaurs. With the partnership, more sciences such as chemistry, math and physics will be included in the museum as well as new opportunities for student involvement.
“So geosciences is keeping this area, but we’re in the works to develop before the middle of September exhibits with math, chemistry, maybe physics. We’re working on getting those in there. And with that brings new opportunities for students to get involved with those kinds of exhibits,” Hargrave said.
She also spoke about how the planetarium will be utilized.
“We have the planetarium here, and there’s some talk within physics to having some of those classes taught over here and being able to use the planetarium,” Hargrave said.
She also highlighted some of the planned programs, such as STEM Saturday, which will happen once a month and have extra activities for museum visitors.
The announcement also states, “As part of the agreement between the University and LCG, the city will retain ownership of the museum building, while proceeds from ticket sales, concessions, gift shop purchases and event rentals will benefit the facility’s operations.”
The partnership between UL Lafayette and LCG has been in the works, according to Hargrave, since the middle of 2021.
Hargrave revealed that the ultimate factor in the partnership between UL Lafayette and LCG is the opportunities it will create for the science museum and the university.
“I think the opportunity, you know, it’s a downtown presence; we can highlight the work that we do at the university. We’ve been very successful in the geosciences; every time we get a new exhibit, a dinosaur exhibit, we see an increase in attendance, museum attendance,” Hargrave said. “So having these changing usually every year or so, I think helps bring visitors back to the museum and not something that oh, I’ve been there before I’ve seen everything there. I don’t need to go again.”
Neva Powers is a senior majoring in geology with a concentration in paleontology and an exhibit guide at the museum. She was also a part of Hargrave’s museum method class. Powers shared that she wanted to start working at the museum because she loves seeing the kids get excited about science.
“So I wanted to start working at the museum because I like the way kids can come, and you can see their whole face light up whenever they see something they really like. I really love the dinosaur exhibit. And I got to see dinosaurs a lot when I was a kid. So, it was always really cool to come here and tell kids about stuff like that,” Powers said.
Powers said she has seen some changes since the partnership between UL Lafayette and LCG, such as increased events at the science museum and kids’ activities. She also points out that the auditoriums in the museum are getting much more use as an event space and not just a classroom.
“But now there’s a lot more like kids activities; kids will come in, and they’ll have, you know, classrooms, things like that. I’ve seen just different exhibits, like the Women’s Chamber of Commerce is coming. And I’ve seen more people coming because of the UL billboard right in front of Blackham Coliseum,” Powers said.
Hannah Hawkins is a graduate student in geology with a thesis on paleontology work and works at the museum at the front desk, gift shop and as an exhibit guide. Hawkins also works with Hargrave on local paleontology. Like Powers, Hawkins said her favorite part about working at the museum is seeing kids get excited about science.
“I love giving tours. We have lots of small kids that come in, and they’re just so eager to come into the museum and see everything and ask questions, and I think it’s pretty awesome that I can be their tour guide and hopefully be that memorable person for them that you know, they’ll take with them,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins shared the benefits of working at the museum as a graduate student.
“We have a lab here in the back that actually people can look into. We have a glass window, and the public can see into and see things we’re doing,” Hawkins said. “ Anytime that I’m here, I can hop back there, work on my thesis work. Just getting to be able to talk about what I do on a daily basis, because even whenever I’m giving tours to the kids, they’re asking me like, ‘Oh, what do you do?’, and particularly right now, I’m studying mammals. So it’s really cool to teach kids about mammals because, you know, we’re mammals, and so it’s cool to relate like us to other animals.”
Hargrave hopes that the co-operating will re-energize the science museum.
“I think it sort of revitalizes the museum. It was a great place. It’s always been great and has a great reputation, great programming and exhibits,” Hargrave said. “But I think with the university’s help, we can take that a step further and offer more outreach to the community because we have this whole plethora of experts at the university now.”