Tyrell Museum Assistant

submitted 2009

Kari Leiper (BA ’05) admits that her Augustana program—a major in history and a minor in biology—didn’t seem to make a lot of sense at the time. As it turns out, the combination has led her to her dream job.

Kari grew up on stories about Camrose Lutheran College from mom Sherine and grandparents Norman and Enid Moe, all also alumni, so she immediately felt at home on the Augustana campus. “It’s a small school,” she says, “but it was full of wonderful people.” One of the great people she met there was future husband Mathew Falk (BSc Environmental Science ’04).

Kari began her studies as a biology major, but a course with Professor Räni Palo changed her mind. “I quickly realized my heart belonged in history,” she remembers.

After graduation, Kari wanted to pursue work in a museum but didn’t know how to break into the industry. She googled “museum jobs” and “history degree” and found Newcastle University’s Master of Museum Studies program. “I didn’t even know such a degree existed,” she says. “I was intrigued.”

Kari moved to England to enroll in the program. When it came time to choose a special option module, she chose natural history. Her two-month practicum was in Knossos, Crete, where she documented a collection of pots, beads, and buttons. “Crete was beautiful,” she says. “I visited a different archaeological site every weekend. It definitely didn’t feel like a job.”

Now Kari is the collections assistant at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta, responsible for creating and updating specimen records for the museum’s world-famous collection of dinosaur fossils. Her role also includes assisting with conservation and storage of the fossils and providing one-on-one support to staff, visitors, and researchers accessing the collection.

To Kari, history comes alive through artifacts. “One of the first things I ever catalogued was a 4000-year-old Minoan bead in Knossos,” she says. “It still had the craftsman’s fingerprints imbedded in it, and that sparked my imagination. What was the person feeling when he made that bead? What did he look like? Who was the bead for?”

“At the Tyrrell, my imagination is triggered every day. Holding the skull of an Albertosaurus that has teeth the size of my fingers makes me wonder what Alberta looked like 75 million years ago and makes me think how lucky we are to live in a place so rich in history.”

Kari points out that her history/biology degree turned out to be just the right thing. “If someone had told me I would one day be working at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, I wouldn’t have believed them,” she says. “I work with amazing people who share common interests and goals, and I care for material that is a fascinating part of our history. I get to hold it in my hands and experience it and really appreciate it. I love my job.”

Hearing Kari describe her work, it doesn’t sound much like work at all.