Tuesday, October 12, 2021
UI Pentacrest Museums

Cindy Opitz is the Director of Research Collections at the University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums and is now officially the recipient of the David J. Skorton Award for Staff Excellence in Service. The Skorton is given annually to up to two individuals who have made significant contributions and have shown exceptional imagination and dedication to improving the university community. It is among the highest of honors a staff can receive.  

Opitz was co-nominated by colleagues Tiffany Adrain, Collections/Exhibitions Manager of Paleontology in the UI Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Heidi Lung, lecturer in the UI Department of Anthropology and Museum Studies Program Director with additional support from Giselle Simón, University Conservator at the UI Libraries, and Brad Gilchrist, R.Ph., Building Coordinator at the UI College of Pharmacy.  

Her nominators go on in great detail of the many contributions and examples of dedication Cindy has made in her role to preserve and promote the use of the biodiversity, ethnography, and historic collections of the Museum of Natural History (UIMNH) and Old Capitol Museum and beyond. Some notable examples include:  

  • Her 2010 book, “A Window to the World: The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History” continues to engage.  
  • Critical improvements to facilities for the collections through multiple grant awards totaling over $500k.  
  • Integration of learning experiences for students through hands-on internships  
  • Preservation of historic items of scientific and cultural relevance, even during natural disasters  
  • Election to Chair of the UI Council on the Status of Women (2006-2007)  
  • Service to campus-wide collections through organization of the advocacy group, University of Iowa Collections Coalition  
  • Service to Iowa’s museums and their communities as a member of:  
    • the Midwest Registrars’ Committee (since 2009)  
    • the Johnson County Historical Society Collections Advisory Committee (since 2009)  
    • the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (Board; 2014–2020)  
  • International promotion of the University of Iowa as Secretary of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (since 2016) and co-chair of its Conservation Committee (2015–2016)  
  • Founding membership in the statewide Iowa Museums, Archives and Libraries Emergency Response Team (IMALERT)  
  • Service as co-leader of IMALERT, organizing training and regular meetings for collections disaster response specialists, maintaining the emergency hotline schedule, and co-leading cultural salvage response (2018–2020)  
  • Service to the Museum Studies Certificate Program, on the Steering Committee, management of the listserv, advising to students, training and supervision of interns, and teaching the Museum Object Preservation course as an Adjunct Instructor on top of regular work hours  
  • Development of a weekly training group for students to learn the specialist skill of preparing bird study skins  

The initial nomination letter from Adrain and Lung reads, “Through these demanding activities, far beyond regular work expectations, Cindy connects UI staff across campus, connects collections across the state, supports a highly specialized role for UI within the state’s cultural sector and the public it serves, and provides a network for connecting UI emerging professional students with opportunities in museum careers.”  

A letter in support of Cindy’s nomination from Giselle Simón outlines their work together through the UI Collections Coalition and Iowa Museums, Archives, Libraries Emergency Response Team (IMALERT). Simón references Cindy’s efforts in disaster relief resulting in salvaging priceless historical materials in the face of floods and fires across the state. Simón says, “Time and time again, Cindy’s selfless acts of good will during a crisis have brought people together as a community and provided the action needed to preserve important historical collections for future generations.”  

In yet another letter of support, Brad Gilchrist, R.Ph. details Cindy’s above-and-beyond contributions to the College of Pharmacy in a project leadership role to assess, organize, catalogue, and properly store for preservation more than 1600 historical artifacts. Cindy’s guidance, expertise, and oversight resulted in the preservation of these objects and also lead to a Museum Studies Internship. Gilchrist ends his letter with, “As I can never thank Cindy enough, I hope the committee will give strong consideration to Cindy Opitz for this award. And, as a former Secretary of the Smithsonian, there is no doubt in my mind, that Dr. Skorton would be incredibly pleased to hear of this award going to Cindy Opitz, who is doing the grassroots work of maintaining historical collections on campus.” 

When news initially broke in early September that Cindy would be a recipient of the Skorton Award, we went straight to the source. Here’s what she had to say, “I got teary when I found out that I had been nominated for this award by my colleagues. They said such nice things about me, and while I have done all of the things they describe in their letters, it didn’t occur to me that this was above-and-beyond activity. I really love my job and the opportunities I have through it to engage with colleagues, students, and the greater local, state, regional, and international communities—with folks who share a commitment to the long-term preservation of cultural heritage and biodiversity archives. Still, it seems like it’s all just part of my job in this University setting, but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.” 

The Faculty and Staff Awards Celebration event will be held at the Levitt Center for University Advancement and live-streamed for friends and family on Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 at 5:45 p.m.