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

Ecoteen Myria Perez earns Girl Scouts’ highest honor — and a congrats from the Mayor — for collaboration with HMNS

Editor’s note: Museum volunteer and Ecoteen Myria Perez was recognized by Mayor Annise Parker on Friday after earning the Girl Scouts’ highest honor for her work with HMNS. Perez collaborated with the HMNS paleontology department to construct a Permian-period touch cart using specimens that she helped uncover at our dig site in Seymour, Texas. We caught up with Myria to talk a bit about her project and what it means to get the mayoral stamp of approval.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria with the Mayor

HMNS: You were an Ecoteen and have logged some 1,000 volunteer hours at the Museum. When did you start volunteering at HMNS and what’s been your favorite project or memory?

Myria Perez: I started volunteering at HMNS in the fall of 2008 when I was 12 years old. During that time, the Leonardo Dinosaur Mummy CSI exhibit was up on display. During my visit to the Museum for Leonardo’s exhibit, I found out about Dino Days and Breakfast with Dr. Bakker and immediately saved the date. When November came around I was able to meet paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker. There I was, wearing my over-sized Leonardo Dinosaur Mummy shirt with a pen and drawing in my hand for him to sign.

Volunteering was brought up during our conversation. “The minimum age is 14; how old are you?” And of course, I responded, “12.” Dr. Bakker looked at me and repeated the question. “12,” I chirped once more, until I realized I had repeated my mistake. The third time, “The minimum age is 14; how old are you?” I was 14 now! The first thing I learned from paleontologist Dr. Bakker was to lie about my age; I was good to go!

My favorite memory was helping my mentor [associate curator of paleontology] David Temple with the new hall of paleontology during the summer of 2011 by preparing, painting, and packing up specimens such as the Megalodon jaw, Triceratops skull, and Edmontosaurus bones. An unforgettable memory was a trip to Seymour, Texas for a paleo excavation in the Permian red beds. The drive is around eight hours, so my mom and I arrived in the town of Seymour around midnight. My mom decided to stop and stay at the Sagamar Inn, the one and only inn in Seymour. The rest of the crew was staying at their normal place.

My mom and I checked in and got ready for bed. About an hour passed since I had drifted to sleep when I woke up to foul words from my mother’s mouth. She was half-awake, jumping up and down, throwing her hands around with a disgusted look on her face. Her bed sheets were stripped away and little black and red bugs scurried, fearful of the lamp light.

This was the horrific bed bug encounter. From nymphs to adults, each part of life cycle stages were present. They were in my sheets, as well. At 1 a.m. we notified the people in charge; they denied the bed bugs and offered us another room — the room next door. Of course, we called poor David Temple and relocated under the darkness of the premature morning to the old tractor factory to join the rest of the crew.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria in the field

HMNS: What got you interested in paleontology? Is it something you’d pursue as a career path?

Myria Perez: I caught fossil fever back when I was 2 years old, and still to this day have yet to find a cure for it. I never played with Barbie dolls. Instead, I spent my time analyzing dinosaur bones (garden rocks in my backyard) and conducting prehistoric battles with plastic dinosaurs. Every year, my mom would take me to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see ancient life. I could say I just grew up with a passion for paleontology.

My ultimate goal is to achieve my doctorate of vertebrate paleontology. I want to study the paleobiology of ancient life.

HMNS: How many hours did you spend on the touch cart? Can you tell us a bit about the process?

Myria Perez: I spent a total of 129.5 hours on the Permian touch cart. This included the planning, presentation of the cart to the museum guild, the Seymour trip to collect fossils with the paleo crew, specimen molding and casting (as well as painting), creation of the manual, docent/volunteer training on the cart, and touch cart presentations to museum visitors.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Myria poses with her touch cart in the new Morian Hall of Paleontology

The Permian touch cart was a great opportunity to combine Girl Scouts, paleontology, and earth science education. The timing could not have been better with the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s new hall of paleontology that opened the summer of 2012. The Permian time period (around 287 million years ago) and the critters that inhabited the earth at that time were and are still being excavated and studied by the paleontology crew at HMNS. This was the perfect opportunity to show museum visitors the entire process of fossil display. In the touch cart, I was able to include items such as excavation site pictures, tools used in the field, and a “fossil hunt” for visitors to spot the fossils as if they were looking for them in the field, ultimately achieving the goal of “bringing the field to you.”

HMNS: What does it mean to you to be receiving the Girl Scout Gold Award, and to receive personal commendation from Mayor Parker?

Myria Perez: The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award to be earned in Girl Scouts (it is the equivalent of the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award). The project must be sustainable and address a community issue. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this project because I was always learning about not only myself, but also about how to work with all kinds of people, how to write a manual, and important paleo skills such as molding and casting specimens. This project has been a wonderful experience and opportunity for me to meet and work with new people and promote earth science education.

To be able to share the HMNS paleo crew’s discoveries in Seymour with Mayor Parker was an honor! It made it very exciting to share a few fossils with her, as she also exhibited great interest in ancient relics. She enjoyed a coprolite (fossilized poop) from a Permian shark called a Xenacanth as well a skull from the boomerang headed amphibian, Diplocaulus.

An Ecoteen meets the Mayor
Mayor Parker examines a coprolite