Volunteering at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has been one of the best experiences of my life. That’s what I want to start off by saying.
The other day, I e-mailed the pre-health/pre-med adviser at my university, and it dawned on me that I do not have enough patient care hours to qualify for physician assistant programs yet. Which was somewhat a dismaying concept to realize because I feel like I’m always doing something and never have any free time to myself. Despite the fact volunteering at a museum cannot be documented on an application form, I am so happy that I have given the 60+ hours to the Academy thus far.
When I finally made the decision to nix the whole med-school idea because I knew my GPA was not quite a 4.0 and more importantly a form of payment for the next 8-10 years of formal education would be impossible to manage, I was honestly heartbroken and lost. It was such a devastating blow to me that I had to give up one of my childhood dreams, not because I had lost the will to preserve, but because of money. The best way I could describe the feeling was like when you watch an amazing movie full of secrets and suspense and amazing characters, and it has an anti-climatic ending that was just disappointing and frustratingly not satisfying.
During my interim of indecisiveness for my career path, I had signed up to volunteer at The Academy of Natural Science for a change of scenery. It taught me very many lessons.
Lesson #1: Education of Youth
I like kids very much, however to be frank, I hadn’t ever babysat for anyone in my family (or extended family) because I am the youngest. Volunteering at the Academy, kids are obviously everywhere, and I have found it’s really a joy spending time with them. Children are so much more smarter than adults give them credit for. Their minds absorb fantastic amounts of information. And their excitement for learning can be endearing to watch. It’s this experience that has given me an even greater respect for teachers and professors than I had before. The education of youth starts just like that, as soon as they can sit around in a stroller and look around their surroundings.
I quite like this learning tree model logo I found from the North Illinois University website.
Lesson#2: Love for Science
Listening to these visitors’ kids instead of lecturing them on the current exhibit topic has been so much more for my benefit than I can describe. When they tell me about the plethora of facts on their favorite dinosaur species they know or the latest and greatest news on satellites, planets, and starts in outer space, it completely floors me. It makes me realize that even though I have about a decade and a half more experience in life and years of schooling more than these children, I still don’t know everything. I am humbled.
More importantly, it also made me realize again my love for science. That in me, I truly, truly am in love with the field I am studying in. It reignited my passion for learning. After freshmen year, I was pretty distraught. I had a difficult time adjusting to living out of state by myself with no friends. Professors were unfamiliar, and they were intimdating. Some I could barely understand what they said. I tested horribly, would freak out and study my brains out, burn out, then test horribly again. Continue the cycle. Then sophomore year came and went, and my grades were decent, but mediocre at best again. I had grown tired of being in school and taking exams. I was more than eager to get out of class and go on coop.
That’s when I started volunteering.
The orientations they gave us were fantastic. They had experts in the exhibits field to train us for a whole day on the subject. And as the weeks went on, I continued to learn and understand more facts about the exhibit. More easily the transition of information to knowledge occurred in my brain. I found ways to assimilate the facts into conversations with visitors. I made up games with kids who didn’t realize that the activity they were enjoy was actually learning in a more interactive way.
Lesson#3: Public Speaking
I never really minded public speaking before volunteering, but I think I have actually grown a fondness to doing presentations. By nature, I am a very shy person and find it hard to approach strangers, but being an exhibit volunteer that had to change. At first, I would politely ask to talk to visitors and actually feel bad for disturbing them. Of course eventually, I learned how to greet the visitors without sounding awkward and how to approach kids so that they aren’t scared or intimidated by me. I’m still very shy around people I meet, but now at least I can keep a conversation flowing if, lets say for example, someone on the train wants to talk to me about the earthquake that just happened (which indeed did happen a few weeks ago. The lady’s name was Joyce, and she has a sister named Carol).
Also, I’ve met some great people! Of course I absolutely adore my volunteer coordinator, exhibit supervisor, and really all of the staff at the Academy. I have never met such a happy and enthusiastic bunch of people in my life. They truly work around the clock to make the museum as great as it possibly can be for their kid visitors.
And as I mentioned before, the kids are great in themselves. They are so much fun to talk, listen, and interact with. As for adult visitors, they had plenty to contribute to conversation with me too! Some had children who went to Drexel as well. Others were scientists coming by to see the exhibit. Many teachers. Sometimes just wandering college students.
I also met one of the coolest kids I know while volunteering there. I met him when he was still in high school, but now he’s a big boy now in NY studying in college in the field of history. His last day was actually the day Irene hit Philadelphia (it was also my last day before my Fall leave of absence). I traveled through the storm to the Academy, too, so that we could hang out and volunteer together one last time. He was my first friend at the Academy.
Sadly, I think this will be my final leave of absence from the Academy. Which is a shame because the bicentennial birthday of the Academy is coming up and we are doing an exhibit on the ever famous Charles Darwin! However, because I need to beef up my hospital volunteering, I will no longer have time to dedicate to them. But I cannot thank them enough for the valuable experience they have given me. I could definitely envision myself taking my sister’s kids to visit The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly one day.