Jan. 23, 2002
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Smithsonian Taps Cumberlidge’s Expertise

The National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution is much like an iceberg: what is visible to the eye via public exhibits comprises only a small fraction of what is actually housed there. For example, you might be surprised to learn that there are some eight miles of shelving devoted to the museum’s crustacean collection.

Neil Cumberlidge (Biology) makes two trips there each year for the purpose of identifying freshwater crabs from Africa and Madagascar. Recognizing his expertise, the Smithsonian recently appointed him as a Research Associate in the Department of Systematic Biology (Invertebrates).

“My role encompasses naming and classifying species – known as taxonomy – and exploring the systematics and evolution of each group,” Cumberlidge said. “It is not a paid position. I receive security passes, staff discounts, an official affiliation with the Smithsonian, and 24-hour access to the collections.”

Taxonomists catalog biodiversity on the planet, but they are becoming a dying breed. There are only two full-time curators in the crustacean section of the Smithsonian. Cumberlidge doubts they will be replaced when they retire, which creates an even greater dependence on outside specialists.

He said there are no African freshwater crab taxonomists in Europe and he is the only one working in the United States. As a result, he receives e-mail requests for help from all over the world. Cumberlidge has also identified specimens pro bono for museums in Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich, Vienna and other major cities.

Freshwater crabs do not exist naturally in the U.S. They are primarily a tropical group and are well represented in Africa, where Cumberlidge was hired to teach and do research on river crabs shortly after earning a doctorate in marine biology. They are also found in tropical Asia and in Central and South America.

“Nearly 1,000 species have been identified to date, compared with only 600 species a decade ago,” he added. “We need to do a lot more basic research on crab biology in general because these crabs are an important source of food to many people, and because these crabs are linked to human lungworm disease and river blindness."”

Cumberlidge is the author of the monograph The Freshwater Crabs of West Africa and even named a genus (Louisea) in honor of his wife, Louise Bourgault (CAPS). One of his graduate students, Sadie Reed, is doing research on freshwater crab evolution as part of a project supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

Cumberlidge received a tenure-track appointment at NMU in 1990 and became department head in 1999.

Campaign Challenge Deadline Extended

At last month's meeting of the Board of Trustees, Northern and the NMU Development Fund extended the deadline for the university's campaign challenge to June 30.

The challenge was first issued in April 2001, when the board approved an initiative that made $700,000 of Northern’s general fund endowment earnings available to match – dollar for dollar – gifts pledged by NMU faculty, staff and retirees to This Decisive Season: The Campaign for Northern Michigan University.

The only requirement is that the gifts target one of three priority areas: new or existing scholarships, the cultural series or a lecture series.

Virginia Zinser (Development Fund) reported to the board that the campaign was nearing its $30 million goal with more than $29 million in gifts and pledges received. She also said that NMU faculty, staff and retirees had pledged more than $190,000 that qualified for matching funds: $105,000 in scholarships, $46,500 to establish a lecture series and $40,000 for the cultural series.

“A number of people talked to Development Fund staff members late last semester about setting up gifts that would qualify for the matching funds, so the general feeling was that we should extend the deadline slightly to include those in the university challenge,” Zinser said.

She also reported on several recent NMU community gifts made to the campaign: scholarship endowments by John Frick (JOBSearch), Chris Fries (HUB), Cynthia Prosen (Psychology) and Tom Schacht (Health Center), and Linda Roe (Development Fund), as well as a $10,000 divisional pledge to the lecture series by members of the Advancement Division (Alumni Relations, Communications and Marketing Services, and Development Fund).

Continuing Ed. Director Describes Vision

Paul McKelvey is the new director of continuing education and sponsored programs at Northern Michigan University. He previously served as executive director of Greater Michigan Programs in the college of extended learning at Central Michigan University.

McKelvey assumed his duties Jan. 15 and wasted no time identifying three primary goals. The first relates to summer session.

“I would like to see Northern become a destination of choice for teachers from all over Michigan to pick up summer credits required to maintain their professional certification,” he said. “We can match the appealing physical environment with an attractive education package that would convince them to come up here. This would involve more than just the School of Education; there would be relevant courses from a variety of disciplines.”

Northern is one of three universities in the state that also serves a community college function. McKelvey said a second goal is to take advantage of that status to strengthen relationships with two-year colleges in the Upper Peninsula and below the bridge.

“We know what it takes to run one- and two-year terminal programs so we should be able to set up articulation agreements whereby students can easily transfer to NMU. I would also like to expand NMU’s presence into the tip of the lower peninsula – a line from Petoskey through Gaylord to Alpena. We ought to have programming at the community colleges in those cities and also work on transfers.”

McKelvey also would like to increase the number and quality of Web-based courses. “If we don’t take advantage of our status as one of the most wired universities in the country, we’re foolish. We should offer a degree program or two on the Web as well.”