UMSL BES Program, Weaving Your Passion with Opportunity
“The best thing to see are the kids that grew up coming here. Now they bring their own kids. I even have a picture of my daughter’s first visit here. Now she is 8 years old and her birthday wish was to come here for the day. She told me she just loves it here. I do too.
Barbara O’Dell is interning at her dream site, the St. Louis Science Center. She works Monday through Saturday, completing a minimum of 480 hours for the Bachelor of Educational Studies Capstone Internship. “I started here in September to complete 120 hours, then Brian Thomas, the Senior Educator in Ecology and Dinosaurs, offered me a second semester. I think he offers that to everyone though.” She giggles at that statement. “I think he wants people to stay longer. He’s looking for outgoing people, folks that engage the public easily. Everyday, I ask him what he wants to do for the day. He tells me, “I want you out on the floor.” Then he doesn’t see me for hours and asks me where I was. I tell him I was exactly where he wanted me. Playing with kids in the sand table.”
With a lifelong passion for science, a minor in biology, and a background in early childhood care, Barbara’s work at the Science Center weaved together all of her strengths to create a life changing experience. “I grew up thinking I was going to be a biology teacher. But then I learned about the BES degree when I was transferring from St. Louis Community College Meramec. I was meeting with my advisor and she told me about the degree and how it would be a good fit for me. She told me about the Parks and Museums emphasis and gave me a list of the internship sites. I saw the Science Center and knew I had found the right place for me.”
Barbara’s duties at the Science Center include working the floor of the ecology and dinosaur dig area, interacting with visitors, and giving tabletop demonstrations. This semester, she was given the assignment of creating a field trip demonstration curriculum. She developed it with help from Dr. Andrew McDonald, the Paleontologist in Residence who runs educational programs that aims to connect the public to real scientists. For the activity,Barbara and the Paleo lab team created a geological time period chart to resemble a clock. “I flip it over to keep the visitors curious. I ask them when they think dinosaurs and humans came about. Then I flip it over, and show them that in the grand scheme of things, humans have only been around for 4 seconds.”
“Every morning, we have a team huddle for the day ahead. There are different color schemes that our managers assign the day. The colors are based on projected attendance, with purple being the busiest days with a lot of school groups attending. One of my projects right now is developing an activity for a field trip. It’s a demonstration with boiling water to show the effects of global warming and glaciers moving. We finished it two weeks ago. Our first time to do it was last week at a teacher preview. It was a lot of fun.”
“The number one question I get here is, “How do I get to the movie theater?” Little kids will ask questions and some of them are so cute and some are “why is the dinosaur dying?” because the giant, animated T-Rex is standing over his slashed up prey, the triceratops. Also, a lot of people ask me if I have seen Jurassic Park. I have. I love that Jurassic Park has opened up paleontology and dinosaurs to the world, but a lot of what they showed was not scientifically factual. Velociraptors are actually smaller and have feathers. A lot of visitors don’t know that they had feathers.”
“One lesson I have learned at the Science Center that will prepare me for a career in informal education is to listen to our little visitors. I make sure I get down on their level and find out what they are interested. It might not be the dinosaurs, it could be the planets. I try to figure out what gallery to send them to. When I was younger, I can remember visiting the Science Center and could remember educators who cared about their visitors. Kids will come down the steps with horror in their face when they look at the T-Rex as if to say, “That thing can eat me.” When I see that, I try to calm them down.”
“I would tell any student searching for an internship site to make sure you are passionate about the place you are intern at. If you are not passionate, you will be miserable. I think one thing that has helped me so much here is an openness to learn. I try to learn everything I possibly can from the people around me. Everyone here has not just taught me everything they know about the exhibits or dinosaurs, but the world in general. I spend a lot of time with Dr. Andre and he can tell you everything there is to ever know about a dinosaur. But it’s awesome because everything I learn from him, I can turn it around and take it to our audience.”
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