Monday, June 25, 2012

First Day Jitters; A Volunteer's Tale...

Adventures in Natural History:
My First Odyssey into Museum Life

I think it’s fair to say that you really don’t know what to expect when trying something new for the first time. I was certainly in that boat.  Throughout the car ride to the museum, I actually got butterflies as I started to think about things: what if I really don’t know as much about dinosaurs as I thought I did, what if the kids didn’t care about what I wanted share with them, what if, what if, and more what if! I felt like a child on the way to their first day of school, the apprehension was getting to me. 

It’s not like I hadn’t volunteered in the past, but that was with a children’s hospital…..this is for a museum – my most sacred of all places! I must do the museum justice, so I decided to refocus my energy into my 8th cup of coffee for the day and relax. Please note, I understand the irony of finding solace in caffeine –it’s probably time for a caffeine intervention for me, but I will deal with that demon at a later time- aka never!

As I started to talk myself down from the proverbial menagerie of restless butterflies that I had collected in my stomach, I did manage to make myself giggle a bit. I realized I was en route to the only place in the world that 30 years of passionately submersing myself into the world of dinosaurs was finally going to be put to some good use! Who says that dinosaur knowledge is not a valid superpower?

So, I show up early…..very early, but I didn’t want to risk being late on my first day! I march over to the door and I am greeted with a huge smile…ok, this is not going to be so scary. Insert sigh of relief. Then, it got even better!  I was about 5 paces into the museum when I was propositioned with some chocolate.

I think I finally found my home!

I took some time after the chocolate indulgence to walk through the museum.  I have spent plenty of time in this museum over the last few years and it truly feels like an honor and a privilege to be here – its awe inspiring to be there in the quiet museum by myself.  Insert a private happy dance in the museum here – please don’t review any security tape from this day – the happy dance actually happened.


This is about the time the rest of the crew for the day arrives and I am finally at ease. It was so nice to be with a group of people who have a similar level of passion for the museum – it was this, not the chocolate (although that is a big selling point), that really made me feel like I was home. It was amazing that people already knew who I was without even meeting me – they were apparently expecting my dinosaur converse, and I did not disappoint! It was energizing that people were excited to share ideas for the blog with me – I even walked away with some articles to ponder for upcoming installations of the museum blog. I love this place and the museum is not even open yet!

Opening time is finally here. I migrated to the Paleo Dig Pit and was ready to start talking dino! I was accompanied by my gold panning partner in crime for the day and I’m not going to name any names, but I was so impressed by him! He had a natural enthusiasm and energy that he easily parlayed into working with the kids. He created such an inclusive and fun environment for the families – I don’t think I could have or would have been able to do that at his age – he is a credit to the museum.

I start to slowly direct some kids into the dig pit and the rest follow suit – I felt like the Pied Piper! I have never seen so many smiles on the kids – they are overwhelmingly excited to get into the faux excavation site and for the first time ever, I actually find myself with a captive audience willing to listen as to as much as I am willing to share about dinosaurs . I was really impressed by the level of knowledge that a vast majority of the kids had about dinosaurs. I even had a five year old boy tell me that the difference between two dinosaurs was “a pronounced curvature of the spine”. WOW! I had to ask his dad how old he was because even if he was regurgitating what he heard from TV or a book, that was still impressive. It was refreshing to know that despite ongoing controversies (i.e. the state of New York has banned dinosaurs from all public school classrooms) that children as still as interested as ever in dinosaurs and they have healthy outlets to feed their thirst for knowledge.

I hadn’t even realized how much time had gone by and all of a sudden, my shift was over. I left the museum with a glow; I finally found an outlet to channel my passion for dinosaurs through and I get to set up a new generation of eager minds on the path towards natural history…..all in a day’s work!

 Andrea Bilardi is a dinosaur enthusiast and contributing writer for the popular dino-blog "Jersey Boys Hunt Dinosaurs". You can read more about her  HERE.

The AzMNH loves its volunteers! As a matter of fact, we couldn't survive without them. To become part of our fantastic family of AzMNH volunteers, please contact Yvonne Petersen, Volunteer Coordinator at 480-644-2760 or email

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