GW, Smithsonian Expand Partnership

GW, Smithsonian Expand Partnership
August 01, 2010

GW students and faculty now have unprecedented access to the world’s largest museum complex under a new memorandum of understanding between the University and the Smithsonian Institution. The agreement, signed in July, includes a collaborative program in museum studies, expanded relationships between the Smithsonian and GW’s departments of biology, anthropology and American studies, as well as a graduate fellowship for GW students at the Smithsonian.

“This marks a new chapter in our long association with the Smithsonian Institution to advance learning and discovery,” said Columbian College Dean Peg Barratt, who attended the signing ceremony. “From internships for our Museum Studies and Art History students to our collaboration with Smithsonian curators on special exhibits involving the evolution of the primate brain and the biological lineage of dinosaurs, we are proud of the partnerships we have reaffirmed with the Smithsonian.”

Columbian College has long enjoyed a diverse range of collaborations with the Smithsonian, including a partnership with the Biological Sciences Department that has spanned more than a century. In the course of the 100-year relationship, many Museum of Natural History curators have served as graduate research directors and graduate committee members. Access to the collection of organisms at the Smithsonian has led to the elucidation of the patterns of speciation in varying biological lineages from spiders to dinosaurs.

The Columbian College’s Museum Studies Program has also enjoyed a long relationship with the Smithsonian that goes back 40 years. The program’s faculty includes eight practicing museum professionals currently working at several of the Smithsonian museums. Approximately 130 students hold Smithsonian internships in collections management, museum administration, and exhibition design and development.

In addition, the Anthropology Department’s Hominid Paleobiology graduate program collaborates with the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History to produce significant ongoing research in evolution of the primate brain, dental morphology, and the evolution of gait. The partnership provides Columbian College students and faculty with access to one of the world’s greatest collections of hominid fossils and skeletal specimens and opened the door to a unique collaborative effort to produce the museum’s new Hall of Origins exhibit.

In American Studies, Smithsonian curators teach two courses—American Material Culture and Asian Influence Decorative Arts—and the Fine Arts and Art History Department use the galleries of the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for classes and to lead discussions among gallery guests.

“This agreement builds on a century of partnership and will enhance the contribution both institutions make to the knowledge, education and cultural enrichment of the American public and visitors to Washington from around the world,” said GW President Steven Knapp.

In his remarks at the ceremony for the signing of the memorandum, Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said of the 1,200 interns at the Smithsonian over the past two years 400 have been GW students. “They enrich us,” he said. “Hopefully some will come back to work here.”

“I am very pleased to be signing this MOU between two great D.C. institutions, both with a long proud history in our nation’s capital, and more than a century of cooperative relationships between us,” said Clough. “This MOU lets us energize our relationship and establish additional partnerships with greater ease and flexibility, advancing research and education for another 100 years.”