UAF students make great discoveries at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Graduate Student Kirsten Olson works in the ethnology & history lab at the museum. This summer, she was one of the first guides trained to lead visitors behind-the-scenes to see the collections and the labs where students and researchers from around the world make new discoveries.

1) Why did you decide to become a guide at the museum? What does it mean to show off Alaska to visitors from all over the world? I became a tour guide for several reasons. My family would visit museums when I was a kid and I was impressed with the displayed collections. A part of me always wanted to explore the mysterious basement and secret tunnels that held even more of those treasures.

When I found out that UAMN would be giving visitors the chance that I’d always dreamed of, I jumped on it! I love sharing the mission and purpose of our museum with visitors, and giving them the special opportunity to see what it is we actually do here. Just a part of it is the exhibits. Through this program, we can share the research and special care given to the collections in order to preserve them for future generations to study and enjoy. When visitors are able to interact with the collection and with our researchers, they’re able to appreciate all the hard work that goes into not only our museum, but museums as a whole.

2) You’ve worked with the ethnology collection. Is there a particular area of research you’re interested in? The reason I came to UAF was to work on my masters in anthropology, focusing on Inuit Art. The objects in our collection tell the story about cultures, past and present; by having the chance to handle and work with them directly, I’ve learned about Alaska Native culture in a very unique and inspiring way. Our history collection is just as inspiring; the equipment mountain climbers used to ascend Mt. McKinley, turn-of-the-century cameras used to document the Fairbanks gold rush, military equipment that defended Attu Island, have all shaped the city, state, and country that we live in. I feel very special to be a part of preserving such a rich history.

) What do you think the most common misconception of Alaska is? How does the museum help tell our story to the world? Moving from Pennsylvania, I had many of my own misconceptions of Alaska. I quickly learned that people don’t live in igloos, that there are chain stores, and that people actually live without running water in dry cabins (including myself!). Alaska is a very unique, very very large state, and to get the full experience of what it’s like, you just need to live here, especially through the harsh interior winters when your car is just as thrilled as you are to be going out in -40.  It’s been an exciting adventure and look forward to more winters to come!

(UAF photos by JR Ancheta)