A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 8, 2008 Volume 38 / Number 6


From the President's Desk

The Natural History Museum as Gateway and Pathway

One of the most important events during this year’s Founders Week celebration occurred on Thursday, April 24, when a large crowd of supporters and well-wishers attended the groundbreaking for the Northern California Natural History Museum. These folks, and many more friends and supporters of the project, have waited for more than a dozen years for this moment. It was a moment of relief and celebration, the end of the beginning, in many respects, for this project that has engaged tireless advocates and carries high hopes with it. The event was well staged, including a blessing on the project and the land delivered by Dennis Ramirez, chairman of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe. It was a lovely reminder of the history of the land and the positive relationship between the University and the Mechoopda.

Along with our great friend and leading Chico altruist Judy Sitton, College of Natural Sciences’ Dean Jim Houpis, and the museum’s executive director, Greg Liggett, I had the privilege of sharing a few remarks on that occasion, and I tailored them to putting this project into larger perspective. That seemed the most appropriate approach, particularly as we wrap up an academic year that has seen so many accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff, and campus, yet which is clouded by budget uncertainty and public policy challenges to our mission. Let me expand on those remarks in this final column of the year.

I see in this museum much that underscores the noble vision that guides the University and our willingness to acknowledge and accept the roles and responsibilities that flow from it. Much of this can be understood within the framework of the museum as both gateway and pathway.

In terms of its location in the northeast corner of the campus, the museum is a physical gateway to both the University and downtown Chico for anyone traveling south on the Esplanade. It heralds a historical and cultural corridor that embraces the Bidwell Mansion, Children’s Park, the Bidwell Bowl, the Chico History Museum, the University Anthropology Museum, The Turner Collection, and the many art galleries of the campus and the downtown. Adjacent to Big Chico Creek, within view of the Coastal Range and the Sierra foothills, it is a powerful reminder of why human settlement occurred in our region and affords a window on the natural and social history of our immediate community and larger region.

In terms of its purpose, it is a gateway to knowledge about our natural environment and its exploration. Through the physical sciences and natural history, the museum especially seeks to stimulate and support our children’s interest in science, to develop their confidence and to encourage their study of science K–12 and beyond. As a resource for teachers and a place of learning for all who visit and enjoy its programs, the museum aims to foster scientific literacy and the benefits of such understanding for the well-being of the North State.

The museum is a gateway between the University and the communities we serve. The dialogue flows both ways. It will welcome visitors, locally and beyond, and it will reach out through traveling exhibits, Web-based materials, and educational programs that support regional teachers and in-service teacher development. It will encourage study and research opportunities for Chico State faculty and students, who, following the example of the University’s highly successful Hands-On Lab, will bring schoolchildren and their teachers into the world of scientific investigation and discovery. It will be a destination attraction, adding to the many reasons why visitors come to Chico and the North State, further stimulating the local economy.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the Northern California Natural History Museum is a pathway to other partnerships of civic purpose, engagement, and service. For in this venture, dedicated citizens and a willing University recognized the needs that would be addressed and the benefits that would flow from this joint endeavor. Moreover, the campaign for the museum has always focused not on the funds required to build it, but on the positive consequences that would derive from it. Vision, in other words, has guided this project from the beginning. That vision underscores the compelling case for both the museum and the kind of partnership that is accomplishing it. This is a project formed in awareness of a problem to be solved and forged through trust in the ability to do so.

As our academic year winds down, it is well to reflect on the many friends the University has to enable our good work and accomplish our vital purposes. Yes, we wish we had more among the public policy makers of California who could take a page out of the book of the natural history museum and recognize that the state must always invest in the future. But what this museum and the partnership that is accomplishing it say very clearly is that our university will not just sit around awaiting better budget days and new found enlightenment in Sacramento. We will push our case and we will pursue multiple avenues—pathways, in fact—to achieve it. The Northern California Natural History Museum is a statement about what vision and resolve, mutually developed and keenly felt, can achieve. Its progress, as much as its promise, is worth celebrating.

Paul J. Zingg, President