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TYLER, Texas (AP) — Less than two miles away from the main intersection in Hawkins, The East Texas Natural History Museum operates out of an old dormitory on the Jarvis Christian College campus.

From these humble facilities, two scientists aim to build the knowledge and research experiences for their students and the state.

The museum’s grand opening was scheduled for Saturday, but it’s been slowly building toward this point for 18 months.

In that time, museum director Dr. James Goodwin and curator Dr. William Godwin have made some substantial progress.

They’ve formed partnerships with state and federal agencies, built collections of preserved insects, plants, fish and more; and provided students the opportunity work with top-notch scientists.

“Lots of our students have zero exposure to the natural world, and we’re putting it in the dead center of their path,” Godwin said referring to the location of the museum between the cafeteria and the gymnasium on the Jarvis campus.

Jarvis, a private, Christian college, serves about 600 students. But the way Godwin and Goodwin approach the museum, it will affect more than just the campus.

“We’re more like a research collection for people to come, look, get things identified and display them,” he said.

Already several state and national agencies and organizations have partnered with the museum.

These include the U.S. Forest Service, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, the Texas Memorial Museum at the Texas Natural Science Center, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, among others.

Through these collaborations and more, the museum is building its collection, connecting students with scientists and connecting scientists to the natural world around them.

Robert Nuelle Jr. is one of several people who have contributed to the museum’s collections.

Nuelle, 54, of Houston, and his son, Robert Nuelle III, 25, started collecting moths and butterflies in 2002 as a way to reconnect with each other.

“I had collected extensively as a child growing up in Missouri and my original collection was between 4,000 and 6,000 specimens,” Nuelle said.

When his son indicated he wanted to learn more about butterflies and moths, Nuelle agreed, and the exploring went from there.

Over the years, the duo has met with professionals and others. Today, their collection numbers in the tens of thousands.

They have loaned 10,000 specimens to the museum but still have 20,000 to 30,000 in Houston.

Nuelle said loaning their collection to this museum has allowed them to accomplish several goals, including increasing scientific understanding about butterflies and moths.

“We actually wanted this collection to have some form of scientific impact,” he said. “This was not a collection that was made just for the sheer joy of collecting.”

Jarvis senior math major Idris Fahmi is one of the students who has seen the benefits of this endeavor.

Fahmi, 24, of Dallas, came by the museum one day to ask Godwin where he could find a good place to fish. Godwin answered his questions and then some.

Now Fahmi works at the museum labeling and storing fish. He has been out to numerous lakes and reservoirs in the area fishing with Godwin and researchers from the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin to look for different fish species.

He said the experience has been great. And even though Fahmi doesn’t plan to pursue a career in the field, Godwin said his experience and work with researchers will prove valuable as he job hunts.

One of the entities collaborating with the museum is the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), based in Fort Worth.

Amanda K. Neill, director of the BRIT Herbarium, said this museum bucks the national trend of a loss of small herbarium collections and the aggregation of those collections at larger universities.

A herbarium is a natural history collection of dried, pressed plant specimens with information about where, when and by whom they were collected, Ms. Neill wrote.

She said one of the collections at the museum is a 5,000 specimen herbarium from Texas and the southeastern U.S.

“They have created a resource and are using it to educate students in the study of biology and ecology,” she wrote in an email. “And with this collection, they will inspire generations of students to consider careers in the sciences, something our country really needs to succeed in the future.”

BRIT Herbarium collections manager Tiana Rehman wrote in an email that BRIT botanists have scheduled regular field expeditions to East Texas for the past two years, investigating unique habitats and rare plants.

She wrote that those visits have been directly facilitated by the infrastructure and relationships the museum has developed with the local community, businesses and other biodiversity professionals.

“The strong collaborative environment between the . (college) ., the community and businesses has facilitated research in unique and otherwise inaccessible habitats, to the benefit of all,” she wrote.

She said the natural history collection at the museum provides the infrastructure and intellectual requirement for turning Wood County into a focus area for biodiversity research.

“Attracting a supporting community of natural history professionals has been beneficial to the students, the state of knowledge in these various disciplines, and really lays a foundation for continued scientific investigation into this area,” she wrote.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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