Museum Curator Ignites Passion for Researching Specimens

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) Museum is a hidden gem nestled between research labs and classrooms. Housing an impressive collection of 43,200 jars of marine specimens from around the world, the museum is a treasure trove for researchers and educators alike.

Sara LeCroy, the museum curator, exudes passion and enthusiasm as she guides visitors through the aisles of sea sponges, starfish, sharks, crustaceans, fish, and sea urchins. With a background in Invertebrate Zoology, LeCroy took on the role of curator in 2000 with a mission to enhance the facility’s invertebrate and fish collection through research.

Each day at the museum is unique, with LeCroy assisting USM researchers and educators in identifying specimens for hands-on classroom activities. She also welcomes students eager to explore marine specimen morphology in-depth. Beyond her daily duties, LeCroy publishes scientific papers on specific specimens, provides assistance to international researchers, and runs taxonomic workshops for the research community and the public.

The museum’s collection spans thousands of jars, containing specimens gathered from the coast of Latin America, the Western Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond. Reflecting on the museum’s history, Charles E. Dawson, the first curator in 1958, paved the way for Stuart G. Poss, who modernized the collection with an electronic database. LeCroy has since built upon Poss’ work, integrating modern software to expand research and educational initiatives.

Collaborating with the Marine Education Center, LeCroy offers tours and educational activities for students of all ages, from local schools to regional institutions. When asked about her favorite specimen, LeCroy admits her fondness for the tiny crustaceans found in sea sponges.

“They’re really cool,” she smiles.

To learn more about the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Museum, visit their website for additional information.

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