If you have visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science extensively over the past decade, you have more than likely found yourself captivated by James E. Washington III, our resident dinosaur and mineral expert. Blessed with a boundless love of learning and science, “Jurassic James” has given tours to dignitaries, kindergartners and curious adults looking to expand their understanding of the world around us. Plus, the man has one of the smoothest, velvety voices in the Houston museum universe. If you are nice, he might even just do the Optimus Prime voice for you.
For this edition of “Fill in the Blanks” Washington’s boundless educational excitement veritably jumps out from the screen. Simply put, James rocks at explaining rocks.
If there is one thing I have learned at HMNS it’s how to work with the general public on a daily basis. Previously I taught and tutored in a college geology department, hidden away in the back of the science buildings on the campus. I mainly interacted with professors and students with pre-established scientific backgrounds. HMNS receives guests from all walks of life who all share a love and curiosity for science and history. Here, I can lecture an adult group on the fine points of plate tectonics in the planetarium, teach homeschool kids the rock cycle in my classroom, or tour some teenagers through the paleontology exhibit hall. Sometimes this happens all in one day!
If I had only ten minutes to visit HMNS I would say to bring your sprinting shoes! In ten minutes you should see the permanent exhibits starting with the paleontology hall — conveniently on the first floor. Clearly I am biased in that everyone in the world should not only see dinosaur fossils but also experience the feeling of walking underneath the girth of their skeletons. Dinosaurs and paleontology were my gateway into science. From that, I learned geology, history, chemistry, physics and geography. I would also suggest spending your final minutes in the Hall of the Americas and the Hall of Ancient Egypt. It’s where you are reminded of your place in the short-lived vapor of time known as human history.
If I had the world’s ear for just five minutes to say anything I would say that the average homo sapien sapien lives between 75 to 80 years, if they are lucky. Travel, meet new people, show kindness, and know that not everyone will agree with you. It is in that difference of experience and opinion that I have learned that the rich flavors of the buffet of life can be prepared.
The wisest person I ever met was my first science mentor, the late great Professor Tom Hobbs at Lone Star College-North Harris. He taught me many things, but he showed me so much more. The importance of good educators and mentors, as well as the importance of slowing down and appreciating everything. From the nature of a rock formation, to how certain plants grow based on the soil they are found in.
If I wasn’t working at a science museum I would likely be doing what I did before joining the HMNS family: teaching in a college or university, leading paleontological and geological field trips, and of course making all kinds of educational scientific art. Simply put, pushing the message of science and history to whoever has an ear.
In 50 years I hope to see the museum’s missions thriving and to see more scientifically-literate citizens of the world. I do not expect everyone to be a scientist, but at least have a better understanding of critical thinking. I will still be fighting the noblest of fights for science education.