I attended the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream workshop this past weekend. One of the sessions I attended was about citizen science. There were several points that were discussed through the session. The first was that citizen science IS science and not to feel that scientists look down on volunteer participation in the project. The second was that as people participating in these projects, it is our responsibility to get people involved, especially the younger generation. Not only get them interested in the project but train them to be future leaders. As I listened to the discussion, I thought about how relevant these points were to the field of interpretation. This post will review how interpretation is available for everyone to participate and that it is our responsibility to train our future leaders.
I feel fortunate that I can use interpretation as part of my career. Like the citizen science structure using trained volunteers, there are many volunteers involved with NAI that dedicate their free time to be involved in an organization that they feel connected. It is important for those of us that are employed to welcome and support these volunteers. We need to make sure they are receiving training opportunities and resources to learn the skills of interpretation. Often times our budgets barely cover the employees to participate in these opportunities so how can we support our volunteers with these opportunities? Perhaps you have in-house training that can share these resources with volunteers. We can take time to teach them what we have learned. If they have the desire, encourage them to attend NAI state meetings that usually don’t have a fee to attend. If you do have room in the budget, provide them with a whole or partial scholarships to a regional workshop. It is important to make sure they feel that their role as a volunteer is just as important as those that do it for their career.
The second point of the session was to train our future leaders. When I was growing up, I never thought about the possibility of working in the field of interpretation. When I visited zoos, nature centers, museums, or parks I didn’t think about those people doing it as a career. I was fortunate enough to stumble into it. After working and being a part of NAI for over 10 years, I have the responsibility to help cultivate future interpreter. Being close to the University of Georgia, I occasionally work with college students interested in a career doing what I love.
I encourage them to volunteer or find an internship to open the wide range of opportunities they can find as interpreters. This training can begin before college level though. We have a teen volunteer group at the nature center that allows them to learn all the aspects of working at a nature center, including how to use interpretation skills to teach the public about our animals and natural resources. We can start shaping the future leaders earlier than high school too. When the elementary aged children visit our centers, it is our responsibility to light a spark in them. They may not learn about interpretation directly but they should leave with a positive impression and the desire to return another time to learn more. We need to foster that desire when they return and find ways to get them involved past a quick visit to the center. Connecting them to your resource will be the start for those future leaders.
The next time you are using your interpretation skills with an audience of kindergarteners or senior citizens, think that one of them could be a future interpreter. What will you do to encourage and inspire that future interpreter?