The Birth of a Museum

Dick Hilton

Building Natural History Museum, 1966

Building Natural History Museum, 1966

Sierra College Archive

The Natural History Museum was birthed 50 years ago out of a dream to expand the science building. Originally it had only one wing which was glassed over. They decided to build another wing with a large open space in the middle so that students could go back and forth between classes. Professor of Biology, Dr. Raymond Underhill, suggested that they turn the middle space into a Natural History Museum, the only dedicated museum space in the community college system. They moved forward with funding and built four large glassed display panels around the center room displaying items about biology, chemistry and physics. Thousands of school children and community groups would visit the museum. Scientists from the college would organize field programs to nearby locations such as the coast, deserts and mountains.

Now when I arrived in 1981, the museum had faltered. Everything that’s been done since that time up until about 3 years ago was done with volunteer help, and we’ve done some great things.

Dick Hilton

Professor of Earth Science

By the time Dick Hilton came in the Sierra College in the early 1980’s, the museum had faltered due to Proposition 13 and the displays were highly outdated. Thanks to a large volunteer base, everything in those displays has been completely replaced up until three years ago. “We’ve replaced pretty much every display, and we’ve made a whole lot of other exhibits as well.”

Some of the stories on how they obtained specific exhibits are pretty amazing. He is proud to still see school children and community groups still come through today. 

“One of the nice interactions between the Natural History Museum is the student museum interaction. They’re actually getting educated and they don’t even know they’re getting educated. The other interaction is the field program. They find fossils. They volunteer in our prep lab. They help prepare the fossils. It then might go into the museum, and when it goes into that museum, it has their name on it, that they found it.”

He is encouraged that years later these students will come back to the museum with their children and point out items in the display. “I found that when I went to Sierra College.” This brings the parents a sense of ownership and pride that is passed on to the children who hope to be future Sierra College students.