Quick Facts: 

Founded in 1887, the Penn Museum is the largest University Museum in the United States.

There are roughly one million objects in the Museum's collection.

The mission of the Penn Museum has four pillars: Research, Teaching, Collections Stewardship, and Public Engagement.

Thanks to the Penn Museum, Philadelphia-area seventh graders are exploring the world’s cultural heritage like never before. Now in its third year, Unpacking the Past is open to all seventh grade students from Philadelphia public and low-income Title I charter schools.

“At our heart, we’ve always been a teaching and research institution, and we take very seriously our mandate for outreach and student engagement across the city,” says Julian Siggers, Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

The multi-stage program begins with a museum educator arriving in a custom-wrapped “mummy mobile” to visit the students on their home turf – their school. Bearing replica artifacts, these experienced educators offer classroom workshops to familiarize students with the skills it takes to study objects—critical thinking, close observation and context clues. This in-school visit primes the students for the centerpiece of the program—a field trip to the Penn Museum where students get a guided tour of the world famous Roman or Egyptian galleries.

While at the Museum, they also participate in hands-on workshops such as “Digging Up Rome,” where the students interpret copies of Roman artifacts, or “Mummy Makers,” in which students assist Museum educators in the mummification process of a custom-made dummy mummy—including evisceration, desiccation, and brain removal.

To expand the impact of the program, each student and teacher receives a gift bag that includes a free one-year family membership to the Penn Museum.

“This is the kind of program that exemplifies the promise of the Penn Compact 2020 and showcases what Penn is uniquely qualified to do: share its deep history and educational resources to make a positive difference in the local community,” says Penn President Amy Gutmann.

Unpacking the Past currently reaches more than half of all Philadelphia seventh graders, adding up to 5,401 students last year alone.

“Our goal is to get every single seventh grade student in Philadelphia to come to the Museum,” says Siggers. “Museums can create transformational moments for children. After their visit, they may imagine themselves working as archaeologists or anthropologists. At the very least, it provides an experience that they will never forget.”

Everything from teacher training, to transportation to and from the Museum, to online resources for follow up, to the Museum membership, is grant-funded and free to the participants. The program is made possible through a generous $1 million lead grant from GRoW Annenberg, a program of the Annenberg Foundation. As of June 30, 2016, $896,020 in matching gifts or commitments had been received, including a generous gift from Diane von Schlegell and Robert M. Levy, and grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional matching funds for the educational program continue to be raised; to make a gift in support of the Penn Museum, click here.