Operations Assistant, NIRC
Negaunee Integrative Research Center
When Robert was nine years old, he told his mother, “One day I will go into the Field Museum and never come out.” Grown-up Robert has almost achieved his goal.
Unbeknownst to Robert, he began a second life at the Field Museum in 2018 as a volunteer to supplement time off between gigs as a freelance art director and graphic designer—his previous profession. What started as a once-a-week volunteer opportunity turned into a nearly five-plus days per week effort in the Museum's Botany department working with fungi and lichens for nearly three years. He became a database specialist in the Field Museum's cryptogamic herbarium. He transcribed thousands of fungal specimen labels (mushrooms and lichens), checked lichen type specimens against publication citations, and performed myriad administrative herbarium tasks.
During the Pandemic, Robert repackaged Curator of Lichens Thorsten Lumbsch's collection of over 13,000 lichenized fungal specimens. He verified and revised the taxonomic integrity of over 4,000 lichen taxa in the museum's database using taxonomy resolution services and photographed specimen labels for later digitization projects.
During Members' Nights and community science events such as WeDigBio and Collections Club, he supervised and participated with other volunteers. At various events over three years, Robert and lichen volunteers repackaged thousands of mushroom and lichen specimens from herbarium sheets to acid-free, labeled packets; transcribed >1,000 specimen labels into MS-Excel spreadsheets; glued >600 mushroom specimen labels to new collection boxes, and revised tens of thousands of bibliographic entries in the Museum's database.
Additional volunteer opportunities in the museum included leading 20+ SPNHC attendees on a field trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum for a behind-the-scenes collections tour, transcribing item records of hats from Luzon for Anthropology; creating several SUE the T. Rex exhibition-related documents for Exhibitions; and participating in a science and education members-only event for Institutional Advancement.
One of his favorite tasks has been geolocating ambiguous collection localities, especially archaic and historic names in his home state of Indiana. In addition to entering more than 700 lichen specimens of Paul Standley's Central American expeditions within a week, Robert is proud of geolocating over 80 collection sites using maps from the 1930s and 40s and collection notebooks – a first for any institution holding duplicates of Standley's lichen specimens.
In 2021, Robert joined the Museum's ranks as a Collections Assistant, working with Collections Manager Todd Widhelm and Curator of Lichens Thorsten Lumbsch curating incoming lichen specimens for addition to the fungal herbarium, and analyzing large sets of research data for import into the museum's database.
In 2022, Robert became Administrative Coordinator for the Gantz Family Collections Center, working with Center Director Deborah Bekken. There was a lot to learn about the actual administration of a Museum department. Besides the daily administrative tasks, he assisted the Director with reorganizing space in the Collections Center's Main Office for better functionality and designed slides for department and trustee committee presentation--including photography for use in various Board Committee Meetings, Leadership Team meetings and Collections Center Staff Meetings.
In 2023, Robert switched departments to the Negaunee Integrative Research Center and became the Operations Assistant. In some ways, the position is similar to the administrative challenges of the Collections Center with many additional responsibilities to curators and researchers. He still finds time to volunteer with Collections Manager of Flowering Plants Emeritus Christine Niezgoda and Collections Manager Todd Widhelm.
Please see my personal website for more information.
Konrat M., Engel J.J., Briscoe L., Rodriguez Y., Niezgoda M., Sass-Gyrmati A., Pocs T., Pinheiro da Costa D., Wagner D.H., Renner M.A.M., Enrique Gil Novoa J., Larrain J., Tabua M., Ranft H., Le J., Glenny D., Long R., Pitts G.M., Evans N., Salm R., Volunteers of the Collections Club (2021). The herbarium of Rudolf M. Schuster: unlocking over a half a century of botanical exploration. Arctoa. Vol. 30: 126–137
- Member, American Alliance of Museums
- Member, Illinois Mycological Association
- Member, The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
- Member, American Institute of Graphic Arts
- Field Museum, 2018-current
- Metro Chicago Heart Walk, almost every year since 2015
- AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, almost every year since 2001
- Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, 1996-2000