The UPLB Museum of Natural History (MNH) marked its 45th founding anniversary on September 30 with a special webinar series and launching of digital projects, in line with their theme “Museums in the New Normal: Their Role in Education, Research, and Extension”.

In her opening message, MNH Director Marian P. De Leon recalled the humble beginnings of the museum that she fondly referred to as "our second home." She also emphasized the role that MNH plays in the university’s threefold function of instruction, research, and extension.

UPLB Chancellor Jose V. Camacho, Jr. also joined the museum’s celebration. In his message, he recognized the continuous transition of museums to the new normal, emphasizing that these places should strive to be “accessible and relevant” to all.

Chancellor Camacho noted some of the good that has come out of this global pandemic, including “finding ways to make available technology work better for our needs,” a sentiment that will later be echoed by the speakers.

Museums' role in education, research, and extension

The series of lectures began with a discussion on museums amid the pandemic. Dr. Jose Eleazar Bersales, head of the National Committee on Museums under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, talked about how Philippine museums were affected by and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. He also discussed government assistance, protocols for re-opening, and the “new normal” for museums.

In the second lecture, Dr. Ruby Cristobal, chief science research specialist from the Department of Science and Technology - Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), pointed out opportunities for improvement in the K-12 science curriculum, class environment, and the flow and accuracy of information being passed down to Philippine students. She laid out the ways through which natural history collections can aid in elevating students’ skills and interests in the sciences and in strengthening collaboration between researchers and teachers.

Toward the end of the presentation, DOST-SEI invited MNH to be part of three of the institute’s activities, two of which are are TuklasSiyensya sa Eskwela designed for high school students and road trips with mobile learning facilities “nuLab” and “Science Explorer”. The other activity is an exploratory talk with the Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology and the Philippine Social Science Council to discuss the development of “interactive and engaging modalities to better make natural history collections useful resources in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics teaching at the basic education level.”

The next speaker, Dr. Cecilia Moran, curator of the University of Santo Tomas Herbarium, talked about the role of museum and herbarium collections in enhancing scientific knowledge in the country, especially during this pandemic.

Through real-life examples, Dr. Moran explained how museums and herbaria provided necessary behavioral, geographic, and historical data to enable the conduct of several ecological studies. She emphasized the importance of digitizing these collections and making it available to the public.

The last speaker was Dr. Aimee Lynn A. Barrion-Dupo, MNH’s curator for moths and spiders and a professor at the UPLB Institute of Biological Sciences. In a pre-recorded presentation, the curator said a museum is “an avenue for formal and informal learning” and a “safe space for communicating science.” She emphasized the need for effective science communication and museums’ movement from the background to the front line in extending science to the public in the new normal.

“We take it upon ourselves as extension individuals to provide science-based information to the general public, because the public deserves that,” Dr. Dupo said. For her, the misconceptions, interests, and activity patterns of people should serve as windows of opportunity for extension workers to effectively reach the public.

MNH in the "new normal"

After the lectures, the MNH launched their three newest digital projects -- the Quincentennial Commemoration Virtual Exhibit; the MNH Virtual Tour; and the botanical herbarium database.

The first to be presented was the Quincentennial Commemoration Virtual Exhibit, which was developed by Harlene May M. Viesca of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension (OVCRE). She introduced the project and walked the participants through the virtual space.

UPLB’s commemoration of the Philippine Quincentennial officially began last May 17, with the sub-theme “Baliktanaw: Kasaysayan at Kalikasan.” It is part of the UP system-wide commemoration, themed “Gahum sa Buut: Tindig at Pamana ng Bayan."

Their second digital project, which is a virtual tour of MNH, enables anyone with a computer or a capable smartphone to explore the museum grounds and view its collections in the comfort of their own homes.

A quick guide video was released by the museum to help users navigate the interface. Within the interactive tour, online visitors can easily and safely watch educational videos and read snippets of information about the museum’s displays.

Lastly, the MNH presented its botanical herbarium database through a video presentation. The viewers saw the meticulous work that went into the establishment of the database and the challenges faced by museum personnel working on the project.

“For over a hundred years, the botanical herbarium [had] amassed over 77,000 collections, making it one of the biggest in the Philippines,” Asst. Prof. Annalee S. Hadsall, curator for the botanical herbarium, said in the video presentation.

The MNH virtual tour and the botanical herbarium database were developed by Florante A. Cruz, a university extension specialist at the MNH.

Toward the end of the event, the turnover of donated biosafety cabinets from Esco Philippines Inc. to the UPLB MNH was symbolically held. Esco Business Development Manager Ninoy Cahayon conveyed words of encouragement and support to the museum.

In her closing remarks, Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension Merdelyn C. Lit acknowledged the role of museums as “documenters, knowledge-keepers, and protectors of the wonders of the natural world, human history, and cultural heritage”.

Vice Chancellor Lit also encouraged the public to support the efforts of museums in the new normal, and expressed her hopes of MNH acquiring its own building and facilities to house all of its resources.

In celebration of MNH’s 45th anniversary, Harmonya: The String Ensemble of UPLB performed their renditions of Bamboo’s Hallelujah and Sugarfree’s Makita Kang Muli.

The half-day event was held via Zoom and streamed live on the museum's YouTube channel.


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