Volunteering at the Academy

Alex Miller’s eyes shined with excitement as he spoke passionately about the volunteer work he has been doing at the Academy for the past three years. “I feel that working here gives me the opportunity to see some spark of joy in people about some scientific thing and peak their interest and let them go away with the idea that science can be fun,” he explains.

Miller is a semi-retired engineer who volunteers several hours a week in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery and at the portable Invertebrate Cart. His favorite assignment entails the cart because he’s able to handle different kinds of live insects, and the visiting children love to touch them and examine them up close through a microscope.

Dana Cohen volunteers in the Ornithology Department. Here she is preparing a bird specimen to add to the collection.

Volunteers have been a major part of the Academy’s success for over 200 years. Hundreds of people from ages 14 to 80+ generously dedicate their time and skills in all different areas of this institution, from the research labs and specimen collections to the exhibits and live animal care center.

Volunteering on the museum floor is a great way to meet guests of all ages and help them learn about science using hands-on activities. Volunteers are integral to the workings of our special exhibits, Butterflies!, Outside In, Dinosaur Hall, the Science Live station, and other areas. Many of the volunteers in these areas are high school students, but retired teachers are also a great fit.

Volunteer Alex Miller is a semi-retired engineer. He shows off some animal skulls to a young visitor who is encouraged to touch the objects. Photo by Maria Morales

Another place to volunteer is behind the scenes in one of the many research laboratories and collections. Here one can get a first-hand look at some of the 18 million plant and animal specimens that are not on display but are used by researchers around the world for their studies. Volunteers in these areas are adults and college students, and many have experience with research or have specific skills that match the needs of the particular science department.

“We get a lot of people inquiring about paleontology and working with dinosaurs and things like that,” says Maria Morales.

David Wilcots volunteers in the Dinosaur Hall. He is passionate about dinosaurs and paleontology.

Morales is the Academy’s manager for volunteer services. She interviews potential volunteers and works with them to find the department in which they will best fit and what suits their interests and needs.

“One of the things we are working on now in Dinosaur Hall is creating a solid core of volunteers that have specialized skills working with dinosaurs to work in the Fossil Prep Lab,” Morales says. “We also need volunteers to give informal talks on the different dinosaurs throughout the exhibit.”

Other departments in the Academy are also thankful for the help of volunteers and wonder how they would function without them. “Our volunteers are indispensable,” says Mary Bailey, manager of Public Engagement.

Morales has been working on new ways to take in and train volunteers. Four times a year there is all-day training for those volunteering in the public part of the museum. Volunteers are brought in to do an orientation so they all get the same information at the same time, and they get to know the specific areas they will be volunteering in.

Volunteer Zach Santangelo smiles for the camera while working in the Fossil Prep Lab.

If you are interested in volunteering, fill out this online form, and you will receive an email including the areas that are currently taking volunteers. Applications will be accepted until the end of December, and the next training will take place in January.


Post by Mackenzie Fitchett, a volunteer Rowan University intern with the Public Relations Department

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