Two of Western Colorado’s largest and most acclaimed institutions — Museums of Western Colorado and Colorado Mesa University (CMU) — have, for decades, maintained a strong and ever-evolving relationship that has grown the impact and credibility of each.
“Our cooperative arrangement connects the goals and curriculum of CMU with the local resources provided by the Museum,” says Museum Executive Director Peter Booth. “This greatly enriches both institutions and, in turn, enhances CMU students’ education and the Museum’s visitor experience.”
Dating from the early 1970s — when the community established its “Historical Museum and Institute of Western Colorado” and then-Mesa College began offering baccalaureate programs — the partnership has had many forms:
CMU is a key collaborator on the Western Investigations Team, providing expertise and scientific equipment to help solve “historical mysteries.” Museum Curator of History David Bailey says, “CMU professors and interns have been invaluable in assisting us on many projects, and even helped to prove that Alferd Packer, The Colorado Cannibal, was innocent of murder. We’ve unveiled more of CMU’s great work with the new Packer exhibition now open at Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction.”
Julia McHugh, CMU Adjunct Professor and Museum’s Curator of Paleontology, was recruited to the community and is jointly employed by the two institutions. CMU President Tim Foster says, “Dual employment has allowed both organizations to prosper from a caliber of expertise that otherwise would not be here.” The partnership also gives CMU students the opportunity for hands-on work alongside professional paleontologists in one of the country’s most prolific areas for discovery of dinosaur and other pre-historic animal fossils.
A study of the economic impact of Museum visitorship and similar surveys have been designed and conducted by students and doctoral-level expertise at CMU’s Business Department. Recent findings report an annual total $16 million contributed to the Mesa County economy as a direct result of non-county residents’ visits to Museum sites.
In a typical year, four or more CMU students in history, anthropology, business, mass marketing, and even Spanish have the opportunity for on-the-job training and insight through Museum-hosted internships. Current CMU Student and Museum Public Relations Intern Conner Travis says, “For me personally, the CMU-Museum partnership has actually helped me to graduate early, and to grow immensely.”
President Foster, who personally has taken on significant volunteer roles with the Museum says, “CMU values an active and viable historical museum. It’s a pleasure to cooperate with and support one another.”