Sierra College museum reaches out to community

Crew needs help to spread the word about Rocklin’s ‘treasure’
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
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Sierra College’s Natural History Museum is growing, and volunteers and staff are looking for the community’s help in getting the word out.

“Nobody knows we’re here,” said Keely Carroll, biology professor and museum director. “Nobody knows that we’re available.”

Right now, the museum is only open during regular college hours, with one Saturday each month for public tours. But Carroll and her colleague’s hope to expand on that – and all the museum offers – in the coming months and years.

“We come over a lot and listen to the lectures and see all the movies they show,” said Jean Sippola, of Granite Bay, who graduated from the college when it was Placer Junior College, in Auburn. “It’s great … Sacramento ought to be ashamed of itself, because they don’t have anything that even compares.”

In addition to four hallways full of natural history displays like animal bones, models, rocks and information about this region’s history, the museum has a planetarium and hosts a lecture series and community events. It also hosts elementary school tours, and has recently applied for a grant to offer educational activities for middle-schoolers.

The museum has been around since the late 1960s, when it had four full-time staffers and did extensive community outreach, Carroll explained. But its funding was cut in the ’70s, and the museum been run by volunteers since. This year, the Sierra Foundation, the fundraising arm of the college, decided to invest in the museum to preserve and expand it as a revenue source for the college, providing funding for a part-time director.

The first year the program will get an infusion of $50,000 from the foundation, which does not operate out of the college’s general budget. The second year it is scheduled to receive $25,000 and the third year $12,500.

In addition to memberships, donations and admission fees, the museum needs help in letting people know its here, Sierra College President Willy Duncan explained at the recent “night at the museum” reception.

“It’s an incredible asset to the college,” he said. “I think we realized what a treasure we have and it’s something I think we’d like to grow, we’d like to develop, and see what we can do.”

Last year, the museum applied to the American Alliance of Museums to be part of its assessment program, and was approved to be evaluated by Dr. Greg Schott of the University of Florida Natural History Museum. Schott, who returned to the museum for the reception, said he was not too enthused about the assignment when he first found out about it.

“When they asked me to come out here, I said, ‘Where? A community college? A two-year college with a natural history museum?’ I said, ‘Yeah, this is going to be swell.’”

But after viewing the museums more than 10,000 specimens and displays created by students, faculty and a cadre of volunteers, Schott saw the massive potential of the little museum that could.

“I got attached to this place,” he said. “It’s so easy to develop an emotional attachment to something like this that is so successful without a lot of support.”

Schott lauded the volunteers, college administration and all the departments that help the museum.

“How they have done what they have done with so little is astonishing,” he said. “This is unique. It is a treasure and you need to treat it as a treasure. You need to support it.”

Ron Martinez is the chair of the recently formed Friends of the Museum group, which is still determining just how its members will support the museum. Possibilities include expanding the museum’s speaker series onto other campuses and perhaps holding a presentation “road show” throughout the community. Martinez said he has spent the majority of his adult life at Sierra College, as a student and faculty member, and has seen the hard work that has been put into the museum.

 “This is such a hidden jewel,” he told the crowd. “You’re here because you know about it … for every one of you, there are 1,000 people out there who don’t know this exists.”



Know & Go

The Sierra College Natural History Museum is at 5000 Rocklin Road, in Sewell Hall. The museum is open year round from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. five days a week while the college is open or in session. Access to the Natural History Museum, Nature Preserve Trail, Cactus Garden and Rock Walk are free. Planetarium shows are by appointment only. Docent-guided museum and Nature Preserve Trail tours are available Fridays during the fall and spring semesters. All school groups are required to have a docent. Planetarium shows are only available on Fridays after 9 a.m., while college is in session. Shows may be scheduled on other days by appointment only. Group rates range from $3 to $6 per person.

To schedule a tour, contact Keely Carroll, museum director at or 660-7923. To schedule a planetarium show, contact David Dunn at 660-7912 or

To learn more about the museum, visit