Teens Take Over at The Field

Jim Fetzer, Staff Writer

Over the summer, the Field Museum of Natural History had a very special program; several dozen local (and a few not so local) teenagers were brought in to help bring a more interactive experience to museum patrons. This was the summer Teen Volunteer Program, of which I was a part of.

The program was under the jurisdiction of Aimee Davis, the Public Learning Experience Manager and was led by this summer’s mentors, Mark and Josh, two incoming college freshmen who participated in the program in the past. The program seeks to use local teens to enrich the experiences of patrons and inspire others to eventually pursue the sciences, both physical and social. Using a rotation of carts and stations, many different experiences are provided by these Teen Volunteers.

Starting on the lower floor there are two stations in the children’s playlab, the Art Studio, in which volunteers help children and parents with a special craft, and the Dino Dig, where children can “excavate” casts of the bones of SUE, and the volunteers help them clean up for the next explorer. Outside the playlab there is the earth timeline, where guests guess where events should be placed on earth’s 4.5 billion year timeline, the shoes cart, where shoes from many different cultures and contexts are explained to passersby, and the mummy cart, where the teens go through a sped up version of the entire Egyptian process of mummification.

Upstairs there are three stations with two carts: the camouflage cart, which showcases the variety of camouflage and its uses in nature using real specimens of camouflaged animals, and the prehistoric life cart, which uses casts of fossils (and a couple real ones) to illustrate the diversity of life in earth’s past. The standalone station is the fossils in the floor, where teens go on their own to introduce guests to the museums most interesting and least known feature, the floor; embedded in the limestone tiles of the Stanley Field Hall are the remains of thousands of prehistoric invertebrates of multiple phyla, right under the feet of all the patrons.

This program runs from June to August, and each volunteer must devote at least ten days out of the summer for completion, though most do more than that. Overall, the Teen Volunteer Program is one of the best experiences one can have in Chicago, and I would absolutely recommend interested High Schoolers (from current freshmen to outgoing seniors) apply when applications open in January. If they get in, they may even have the opportunity to continue year round in a more limited version of the summer program.