I am no stranger to nature. I went to summer camp as a kid and I took a wilderness survival class in high school (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I got mono and never took the outdoor final exam). While living in Seattle, I climbed Mt. Si, and accidentally snow-shoed up a ski run in the Cascade Mountains (the path was accidental, not the snow-shoeing). I own my own hiking boots, sleeping bag and tent. They just don’t get much of a workout. I prefer to leave the outdoor activities to my geologist sister. Her job takes her to places where the nearest town is 40 miles away. My job takes me to Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I like it that way.
My work with RK&A has taken me to science museums, history museums and botanical gardens. I have collected data on the National Mall in the heat of an Indian summer, and in an active construction site where I, along with the visitors I was interviewing, was required to wear a hard hat while speaking (sometimes yelling) over the noise of table saws. Certainly most of my museum evaluation experiences have been in traditional museum settings; I haven’t had to worry much about “roughing it.” It is unlikely that I will find myself too far from snacks or indoor plumbing. But recently, my work took me someplace a little different.
I spent four days in Manati, Puerto Rico working with the Conservation Trust and its Citizen Science project. The activities in the Citizen Science project are led by university scientists and often don’t take place indoors. Just getting to some of the activity sites was an adventure – skirting the edge of rivers or hiking 20 minutes into the forest. The only snacks were the ones we brought with us, and bathrooms? Forget it! To further complicate things, the programs were conducted in Spanish, so I could only observe the action, relying on the kindness of the participants, scientists and our bilingual data collectors to provide context for what was going on. To say that before I arrived I was nervous about what would happen would be an understatement.
As it turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I understood more than I thought I would and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place. I learned new things about the ocean and the rivers. I learned what bats look like up close. I experienced more of Puerto Rico than I would have on a typical vacation, traveling to parts of the island that were far away from the tourist destinations of San Juan. And truthfully, I saw more of Puerto Rico than I have of Chicago or Miami since I was outside, exploring the area, rather than in a museum all day. And as I watched participants try new activities and learn new things, I was reminded that informal education can happen anywhere, even without climate control and labels! Informal education can happen as long as there are people who want to share their knowledge with others.
I still love the evaluation work I do in museums, and I don’t see myself leaving the museum field for another kind of field (although the idea of dedicating myself to the study of the coast seemed particularly attractive after spending a warm and sunny morning on the beach—for work.). I love hearing people speak passionately about their experiences, and getting excited about things they see or read in traditional museum spaces.
But if you find that you need to evaluate a project that is off the beaten path (or at the beach!), give RK&A a call. I know there is at least one Research Associate ready for an adventure.