HMNS Xplorations Interns Share Wisdom (and Laughs)

All of us in the Youth Education Programs department at the Houston Museum of Natural Science started as volunteers, part-time, or interns. We all came from different backgrounds, departments and experiences. The thing we have in common (other than we each bring our own flavor of nerd to the department) is that we all got hooked. We have a joke that the museum sucks people in. There’s something addicting about this unique and totally weird workplace where asking things like “Did someone move the tiger I put in the freezer?” elicits a response of “Wait, which tiger and which freezer?” Each year, we bring in a new cohort and give them a chance to get sucked into the wonderful world of HMNS. It takes a village to operate our Xplorations summer camps, and our interns are an integral part of our team. This summer, we’re highlighting our entourage of interns. Each group is responsible for a different aspect of our summer programs. Read below for their interesting take on what it’s like to work during the busiest 11 weeks of the year for Youth Education Programs!

Xplorations Interns

Collections Crew

Our collections interns are responsible for making sure all of the camp classes have the supplies they need. In other words, they’re in charge of the “stuff.” Education Collections is kind of like the Room of Requirement from the Harry Potter series. If someone comes in and starts a sentence with “Do you have…,” the response is almost always going to be “Yes.” Live leeches? Got ’em. Sheep brains? Yep. Cut out of a life-sized T. rex footprint? Of course. Chenille worms? Always. Spectrum tubes? Absolutely. Anatomically correct dinosaurs? You betcha.

Sara Hayes, Before Camp Coordinator, Texas A&M

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? Mummifying potatoes. The kids in Mummies and Mysteries do this to learn about the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification.

When people ask about your summer, what do you immediately think of?

Making a Jell-O brain for kids to eat as part of the Weird Science camp.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve overhead at camp? I once heard a camper say, “My favorite part of camp is digesting eyeballs.” They meant to say that their favorite part of camp is dissecting eyeballs.

Olivia Close, After Camp Coordinator, University of Dallas

What new and unusual vocabulary have you discovered this summer? Axolotl and atlatl. We have a pair of axolotls, a type of amphibian, as part of our live animal collection. The campers in Archeology 101 practice using atlatls, a spear-throwing tool, while they learn about ancient civilizations.

What’s the most unusual use of an everyday item you’ve seen this summer? Recycling items like old CDs and egg cartons are used to make lungs, cars, robots, rockets and so much more!

Allison Walker, Xplorations Resource Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin

What’s your favorite fun story you tell your friends and family? I tell them about the time I was casually asked to carry two real human skulls down the hall to the Crime Scene Investigators camp.   

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? Keeping bags and bags of butterfly wings in the freezer.

Jayme Schlimper, Camp Assistant Coordinator, University of Houston

What work story has created the greatest look of horror on your family and friend’s faces? I forgot that I placed a bag of sheep brains on top of a box and went to grab them later…To my surprise, I got a handful of sheep brains.

What’s your favorite fun fact you tell to impress your friends? I love asking them about T. rex arms! “Want to know why they’re so tiny?” Immediate intrigue.

 

Animal Wranglers

Our animal care interns are responsible for taking care of our extensive live animal collection during the summer. They do rounds with our Get Set to be a Vet camp as campers learn what it takes to care for different types of animals from amphibians to reptiles to mammals. They also do live animal presentations for many of our camps as campers learn about animal adaptations. It involves a lot of snuggling scaly critters and all of the smells. All of them.

Kelsey Williams, Animal Care Intern, Hendrix College

What new and unusual vocabulary have you discovered this summer? Nebulize. We had to learn how to nebulize one of the snakes. A nebulizer is used to administer medicine in the form of a mist, so it can be inhaled into the lungs.

What’s your favorite animal you’ve worked with this summer? Leu the leucistic rat snake, because he will hang out around your waist like a snake belt.

Holly Hansel, Animal Care Intern, University of Texas

What after-work story has created the greatest look of horror on your family and friend’s faces? My job encourages me to handle alligators, tarantulas and snakes. And I love it.

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? I accept the fact that animals can and will poop on me. Additionally, I can use an animal’s poop as a learning accessory during class presentations.

Lizzy George, Animal Care Intern, Ohio State University

When people ask how your summer’s going, what do you immediately think of? I think about how fun it is to chill with and take care of the almost 75 animals we have here at the museum.

What is one thing that you now find totally reasonable that was unthinkable before? Letting a tarantula crawl on me.

 

Health Squad

Our healthcare interns have the lofty and important task of ensuring each camper has a health form on file. They’re also responsible for managing medications and making sure any health concerns are passed along to our teachers.

Aida Iriarte, Healthcare Intern, Purdue University

What’s the funniest thing you’ve overhead at camp? A teacher came in with a camper and said, “We’re looking for a pink dinosaur…”

What’s your favorite story that you tell to impress your friends? I love telling them about the one time a camper told me I reminded her of Beyoncé.

Cristian Cruz, Healthcare Intern, University of Texas at Austin

What’s the funniest thing you’ve overhead at camp? Someone came into our office and said, “The sign on the door says the kids are at macaroni?” This was in reference to a trip our Backstage Pass class takes to our offsite storage facility, called Marconi. 

What new and unusual vocabulary have you discovered this summer? Using the word “snake” as an insult as in “You’re a snake.” We had a camper who regularly used this as an insult.

If you’re interested in becoming a part of our summer camp team, keep an eye out for job postings on the careers page on the HMNS web site. Xplorations positions are typically posted in December for the following summer.

Archie Spends ‘A Day in the Life’ of a Museum Volunteer

By Jennifer Gerbode, HMNS Volunteer Coordinator

Hi everyone, it’s Archie the Wandering T. rex! I recently had some downtime in-between travels, so I decided to go on a small adventure of my own right here at home. The museum is always a busy and popular place! Between all the tours, the cool members events, and special exhibits, we need a lot of hands to make sure everything goes smoothly. Thankfully, we have a great group of people that do just that!

HMNS volunteers give their time to the museum and share their love of science and learning with the public. Anyone can be a volunteer, provided you are at least 18 years old and can commit to 40 volunteer hours per year. The volunteers tell me this is really easy to do; a couple hours every other week will do it.

Vol Office Door

Since it is summer, the Volunteer Office might seem quiet, but that doesn’t mean volunteers aren’t busy! Year-round, volunteers give guided tours to visitors of all ages in the permanent and special exhibit halls—and even take museum-related presentations out into the community via the Docents-to-Go program. During the school year, they also help with the HISD 4th grade program and the Early Investigations program geared for Kindergarten – 3rd grade.

Before Tour of HoA

I got to hear a few quick talking points about Hall of Americas before a tour began.

Once any morning tours and activities are over, it’s time for a quick lunch break! I sat down with some of the volunteers as they poured over exhibit halls notes and shared anecdotes about their time on the floor (Don’t worry! Some of these stories will be shared in a future blog, so stay tuned!)

After lunch, I decided to tag along as one of the volunteers grabbed a special key and went to open up a touch cart. As the name implies, touch carts are filled with touchable items that pertain to the exhibit where the cart is located. Most of the exhibits have at least one touch cart, while a few popular halls have more —The Morian Hall of Paleontology has six! To work a touch cart, volunteers don’t have to be an expert on the entire hall; they only need to know a few key facts about one or two intriguing items in the cart.

We ended up talking about mummification in the Hall of Ancient Egypt at a cart the volunteers lovingly call “Himself.” They call it Himself because, according to Royal Decree, the King was always referred to as ‘Himself.’ Since the cart is in the shape of an anthropoid (or human-shaped) coffin with both hands crossed in front (the sign of a king), the name is most appropriate.

Fun at Himself

Uh… shabtis? A little help?

After we spent some time at the “Himself” touch cart, my volunteer friend suggested I check out one of the demonstration stations scattered through the exhibits. These volunteer-run stations show science in action and allow for a little more hands-on approach. For mad scientists, the Chemistry demo area is the perfect place to talk about reactions (while playing with fire). For those with a passion for sparkly gems and their creation, the Rock Star gem polishing station is situated right inside Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg. What better place to demonstrate what a facet or a cabochon is?

Rock Star Station

While it’s not an everyday event, volunteers also help prepare and run the craft tables at the many member events throughout the year. I was able to hang out with Ben, a frequent volunteer at craft events, as we showed off a few crafts being prepared from upcoming and past special events.

Archie and Ben

Before I knew it, I had spent the whole day with the volunteers! Not all volunteers spend a full day at the museum—and no one participates in, or knows, everything. Volunteers get to pick and choose what to do based on their schedule and interests. The one thing that all volunteers share though is a passion for learning, and a desire to share knowledge with others.

Interested in becoming a volunteer at HMNS? Check out the Volunteer page on the HMNS website for more information opportunities at HMNS’ three locations, requirements, and application instructions. Interviews will open for new applicants beginning July 18, with the first school-year orientations scheduled for late August.

Until my next exotic adventure… see you in the halls!

Shadow Archie

The Adventures of Archie the Traveling T. Rex: Big Bend National Park

by Charlotte Brohi

Well, it’s Archie reporting in….

After my visit to Paris, I thought it high time I went to a place closer to home that has fossil records of some of my friends in the dinosaur world. Can you guess where?

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So, I hunkered down in my suitcase for the short flight to Midland, Texas, my jumping-off point for my adventure to the Big Bend National Park. Don’t worry. I brought sun protection (a hat) and extra water because I was planning to hike as well as learn a few things.

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You are probably asking, “but Archie, why Big Bend?” To be honest, I was totally inspired to go WILD and visit a national park ever since I saw the new Giant Screen/IMAX film at HMNS called National Park Adventure 3D. That’s me in my 3D glasses below. Spoiler alert: this film showcases 13 of the famous parks and it has better music than what is on my playlist!

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Feeling adventurous, and having learned that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park system I just knew I HAD to go! How often do we get to celebrate a centennial? Do you know who is credited with this monumental feat? If you shouted to yourself, “President Teddy Roosevelt” then you would be correct! Sadly, he lost both his wife and mother on the same day but he credited his time in the wilderness as crucial to his emotional healing and thus inspired him to protect the wilderness. I LOVE being in the wild too, don’t you?

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Because I didn’t want to play favorites I also ventured to Big Bend State Park. You can’t tell from this photo, but Big Bend is considered moderate-altitude (between 5,000 and 6,000 feet). I still had to catch my breath and take it slow up the trail. Remember, altitude can negatively affect those who are older and can only use half of their appendages when walking… Like moí! See, I did learn something in Paris.

As I prepared for my hike, I took a look around and remembered that Big Bend has the youngest of all Texas dinosaurs, dating to the end of the Mesozoic, 66 million years ago! I am walking in the footsteps of greatness!

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The next day was pretty hot (100 degrees, to be precise) so I decided to stay cool in my traveling suitcase as I pondered the fact that more than 90 dinosaur species, nearly 100 plant species, and more than two dozen fish, frogs, salamanders, turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and even early mammals have been discovered here. But to most of us, it’s just so darn BEAUTIFUL!

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And because I’m a good steward of the environment, I didn’t pack anything extra to take home with me. It’s important to preserve all cultural and natural artifacts. So I only took photographs and left only footprints.

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Did you know that the Rio Grande River is the international boundary (1,000 miles) between Mexico and the United States, and the “big bend” follows more than 100 miles of that boundary? In fact, the park was named after the area, which has a large bend in the river. I love learning the origins of names. Just like my name, Tyrannosaurus Rex, which comes from Greek and Latin roots that mean “tyrant lizard king.” My friends just call me T. rex, though. Or Archie. It’s less intimidating.

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The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…

Once the sun went down, I gazed at more than 2,000 stars. Big Bend has the least light pollution of any other National Park in the lower 48 states. There’s even a song to celebrate its greatness. I also used this cool app called StarView to identify stars and planets in the night sky. Jupiter, one of the five bright planets, was indeed bright and beautiful!

I didn’t want to leave, so I promised myself I’d come back when it’s a little cooler. Shoot, I may even decide to head to the McDonald Observatory in Ft. Davis (which has nothing to do with burgers and fries). But until then, I’ll get my stargazing fix at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park, another very cool place to see the stars and enjoy the natural beauty of the great state of Texas.

You can find Archie and the whole Adopt-a-Dino family in the HMNS Museum Store. Drop by and take one home!

Editor’s Note: Charlotte is the Vice President of Film Program and Distribution for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The Adventures of Archie the Wandering T. rex: France

by Karen Whitley

Hey there, devoted fans! Archie checking in. I can’t wait to tell you about my last adventure abroad.

After packing up from my last adventure to jolly ol’ England, I said “Cheers!” to the United Kingdom and boarded the Eurostar to France! Parlez-vous français anyone? Yeah, me neither, unfortunately. The Chunnel was great, zooming along an underground tunnel at 160 kph (that’s about 100 mph for us Americans) while changing countries, languages, currency, and even time! But the absolute best part was the jelly they served with breakfast! Oops, I mean the preserves. Don’t worry, I took a photo of the jar so we could all benefit! *Cough* I may have taken the rest of the jar with me. A dinosaur has to eat, after all.

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So after a scrumptious meal and a quick changeover in Lille, Nord-Pas-de-Calais we arrived at Disneyland Paris where we would be staying for our whole trip. Interesting note, all of the Disney hotels have American names. What can I say? It’s a small world. The parks were a lot of fun and we learned to get around the language barrier. They were amazing at accommodating people and dinosaurs from all over the world. Of course we managed to ask for the most important thing, une glace. At least that’s how the locals say cremèe glacée: ice cream!

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Despite how awesome the parks were, you can’t go all the way to France without checking out Paris proper. I was lucky to be with some veteran travelers who knew the ins and outs, so we took the metro to the Trocadéro stop to begin our new site-seeing adventure!

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Grr, argh!

After lunch under the Eiffel Tower (and let me tell you, you haven’t had a hot dog until you’ve had one in France. It was in a baguette!), we took a boat down the Seine to our final Paris destination. Can you guess?

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Notre Dame Cathedral was beyond spectacular, but I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover what was on top. Only 387 steps up (ok, I totally piggybacked that climb) I discovered what looked like some long lost cousins on my mother’s side. Oh boy, I really felt a connection here! I almost didn’t want to leave, but I had a new adventure just around the corner.

After my amazing summer trip, I headed back home to the Houston Museum of Natural Science just in time to join an Adult Education program that had us going to Germany to visit amazing museums and even some dig sites. Sprechen Sie deutsch? Yeah, that’s another no for me too. Anyway, the Bavarian countryside was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed amazing weather throughout! We were even there for Oktoberfest. Prosit! The best part, and to me even better than beer, is staying at Schloss Eggersberg. My German may not be great, but one word I do know is schloss, or castle! My room was in the top corner of the castle in what would be considered a servants’ room. A grown man could spread his arms and touch both sides of the room! Looks like being 8.5 inches tall is paying off for once.

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With the program, one of the amazing sites we visited was Solnhofen, home of what they call a Lagerstatte, a site filled with wonderfully preserved fossils. They have found over 500 species in this one site, but the coolest thing (at least what I think) is that this is where the Archaeopteryx was first discovered, the earliest bird known to fossil record!

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We also visited the Messel Pit Fossil Site. Man, I had some fun here. This place is rich in fossils, including being where the much debated Ida was discovered about 30 years ago. Whether or not Ida is the missing link, Messel has provided the world with tens of thousands of amazing fossils. And an awesome replica of a Masillamys, which patrons are probably not encouraged to ride. But I did anyway. Woohoo, ride ‘em cowboy!

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After a week of enjoying the German countryside and exploring and learning about different fossil sites, it was back to HMNS again to prepare for my next trip. I can’t wait to tell you about my next adventure!

You can find Archie and the whole Adopt-a-Dino family in the HMNS Museum Store. Drop by and take one home!

Editor’s Note: Karen is the Assistant Birthday Party Manager for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.