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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A history of the natural world: Deborah Cowman has been director of the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History for the past seven years.

Brazos+Valley+Museum
Tim Lai
Brazos Valley Museum

A dinosaur, killed by a puncture wound, lies fossilized with its skin still apparent for visitors to see right inside the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History.
The museum — a community staple since the 1960s but relatively unknown to students — features fossils such as a well-preserved dead hadrosaur, rotating exhibits and many activities for visitors. It lies a few miles from Texas A&M’s campus and holds much of the collection left over from a university natural history museum that closed in the 1970s.
The museum inherited many collections left behind after the campus museum was disbanded due to a change in state policy. Deborah Cowman, director of the museum for the past seven years, said Texas cut funding in the past to keep only one land-grant natural history museum open. University of Texas’ museum stayed open, while A&M’s closed.
The  museum still maintains a close relationship with many Texas A&M departments. Just recently it hosted a crystallography exhibit in conjunction with the chemistry department.
“We are always working on new exhibits, in fact we have one coming down the pipes that will be all about lizards,” Cowman said. “So we will be working closely with the wildlife department on that. Exhibits on cultural and human history complement those that focus on natural history. For example, the current principle exhibit shares the lives of the Inuit people.
“For that particular exhibit the items are all privately held, and so this is the only time that they will ever be on display. We’ve actually expanded the exhibit because people have been enjoying it so much, so the exhibit will be open until 
the 27 of June,” Cowman said.
Some of the exhibits travel the nation throughout the year, such as “Bandits and Heroes,” an exhibit on the culture and people of northeastern Brazil. 
The museum houses more than just historical exhibits — it also keeps a small community of animals for visitors to observe. Visitors can see a wide variety of animals, from reptiles to tarantulas, and even a glass bee hive. 
Sarah Hoffschwelle, the museum’s executive assistant, spoke the fossil collection is her personal favorite feature of the museum.  
“We have some amazing pieces in there that you would honestly be shocked to find in a small museum like this,” Hoffschwelle said. “We have some Smithsonian grade pieces that are hard to find anywhere else.” 
Hoffschwelle said she particularly likes how some of the exhibits still have life-like qualities to them. 
“You can see the skin on one of them, and you can see how the hadrosaur died — you see the actual puncture wound,” Hoffschwelle said, referring to a dinosaur with a duck-billed face.  
The fossil collection has specimens from across the nation, and even some found in the Brazos Valley.
On Tuesday the museum will host a free meet-and-greet party to welcome its new curator, Rebecca Ingram. This welcome party is open to the public and will have wine, hors d’oeuvres and live music.
One of the more popular events the museum holds are nature camps for children ages 4-12. The camps work to instill a love of the natural sciences through small class sizes with instructors and fun educational activities.
Heather Sterling, who works for the museum in education outreach, said even though the camps are focused toward younger audiences, the museum offers attractions for all ages.
The museum’s Boonville Days Fair includes a 5k and half-marathon race, a day full of pioneer role-playing and other activities. The museum even corrals up 10 different chuck wagons for an authentic field style cook off. The museum has to raise its own annual budget every year, and the Boonville Days fair is one of its major fundraisers.
“It’s very unusual for a community of this size to have a Museum of Natural History,” Cowman said.

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    Tim Lai
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    Tim Lai
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