A state-administered grant program recently boosted its longtime support of Rice Creek Field Station to $175,000 over five years -- a $10,000-a-year bump that has enabled hiring of student curators for animal collections and much more.

"We are honestly very excited about it," said biological sciences professor Kamal Mohamed, director of Rice Creek, the college's teaching, research and community resource on 400 acres of mixed terrain off Thompson Road in the town of Oswego. "So was Diann (Jackson, assistant director), because she's so involved with public education. It's a big deal."

The Zoos, Botanical Gardens and Aquariums (ZBGA) grant provides support for specimens and supplies, replacement or restoration of old taxidermy and other parts of the collections, field guides and manuals for Rice Creek's library, and naturalists from area schools to do interpretive walks, according to Mohamed.

And the funds have directly benefited two junior zoology majors, Cayla Turner of Brooklyn and Cori Monaco, as well as students who will succeed them as collections curators.

"I feel this job has taught me to fully follow instructions and be confident in myself," Turner said. "Our boss (Jackson) doesn't stand over us. Once we learn the (restoration) task, we are largely doing work on our own." 

Monaco agreed, saying she has been able "to stretch myself more and handle lab tasks and coordinate with others. And it's made me appreciate the specimens we have." She pointed to a giant salamander -- the so-called Congo eel is more than a foot long and has four tiny legs -- in a laboratory jar as an example within collections of amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles and fish.

"Our job is to make sure the jars and the (preservative) alcohol get replaced so specimens can be used in class," Monaco said. "The field station will get to buy a lot of replacement jars -- the Bakelite seals start to fail and the metal lids tend to rust."

The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation administers ZBGA grant funds, which provide the stimulus to develop educational, cultural and recreational programs interpreting the state's natural heritage, as well as support for the permanent collections of eligible institutions. The program has provided grant funding to Rice Creek for at least 30 years, Jackson said.

Rice Creek Field Station, founded in 1966, offers a state-of-the-art building with labs, classrooms, offices, a library, observatory, pavilion and herb garden. Jackson coordinates nature education programming for all members of the public, including schoolchildren. Rice Creek Associates, a citizen support group that began in 1986, works to expand the scientific, educational and recreational opportunities at the station through community involvement.  

For more information, visit oswego.edu/ricecreek or call 315-312-6677.