My name is Heather Mortimer and I major in Interdisciplinary Sculpture. I first experienced the National Aquarium as a child who loved the ocean. This led me to volunteer through their Student Summer Program while attending High School. I enjoyed the experience so much that I continued as an adult volunteer after the program ended. Of course, it seemed like a no-brainer for my first internship to be through the Aquarium. It was hard to choose which internship I wanted to apply for but I eventually decided that I was most drawn to Conservation Education. I was asked to answer a few more questions and then informed that I would be completing an internship for the Summer of 2014.
Despite already spending a year volunteering with the Aquarium, I didn’t quite realize how large their education department was. My supervisor, who works in Formal Education, informed me that I would also be working with Visitor Programs and School Programs. I started out primarily in Formal Education because it was “Field Season.” In other words, almost every day they were taking students from the Aquapartners Program on field trips to either Fort McHenry or Sandy Point. After spending a week with Formal Education, I started shadowing with Visitor Programs, the department that teaches visitors inside the Aquarium. I was trained on Water Safety, Animal Handling, Interpretive Teaching, and a variety of Carts and other Educational Tools. I was also invited on special trips such as Osprey Banding and kayaking, as well as Shadow Days, where I spent the morning with another department such as Exhibits and Design or Australia. It felt like every day I was doing something new. I even completed a teacher workshop for the Project WET Activity Guide. I had the opportunity to teach an activity and received my own copy of the guide by completing the course.
I’ve learned so much these past few months. I can now calmly handle a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach while talking to visitors, keeping the animal safe, managing the crowd, watching the carrier with the other cockroach, making sure people use the hand sanitizer, and getting to the conservation message. I know how to reassure a child who is concerned about endangered animals that there are adults working to protect that animal and that they can help too just by shutting the water off while they brush their teeth. I can get a group of excited 5th graders to focus their attention on a discussion about oyster reefs. I think the most important part of my internship was learning where my interests fit in, and what opportunities are out there. I was able to experience teaching in a variety of settings, as well as see firsthand what goes into creating an institution like the National Aquarium. From the big idea for a multi-million dollar exhibit to how we’re going to interpret a model of a shark with a conservation message. I’m sure that my interpretive training will benefit the effectiveness of my art and that what I have learned will appear in its content.