Interpreting Hospitals

We just opened a brand new hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium, and it’s not for people. 241 sea turtles have come through our hospital to be rehabilitated and released back out in the wild. This is something that we have always done, since we opened in 2000, but it is just now becoming a part of every guests’ experience. No longer do they have to pay extra money and go down to our basement, but every guest that enters our building will have the chance to see sea turtles in rehabilitation up close and personal, maybe catching a feeding, exam, or surgery.

This is a new kind of interpretation for us as educators at the Aquarium. It is extremely powerful to let guests have a glimpse into the world of sea turtle rehabilitation, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. What most guests don’t realize, is that these turtles undergo surgery very similarly to people. Doctors and Nurses recognize the equipment in our surgery suite and can relate to the work that the Veterinarian has cut out for him. Guests have watched 4 hours of surgery where 4 feet of fishing line was removed from a Kemps Ridleys intestines. It is bloody, gruesome, shocking, and real. Letting guests in on our behind the scenes action calls for some necessary interpretation.

It is extremely important to educate guests on what they are viewing.. what injuries are what, what the x-rays are showing, why that turtle has a tube down it’s throat, why that turtle is bloody, and why that turtle isn’t moving… it’s a lot of information that could get misconstrued by guests if not explained properly. We strive to always have interpreters in our sea turtle hospital to walk guests through the experience of rescue, rehab, and release and the impact on our guests is truly life changing.

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What’s It Worth?

I had someone ask me for ideas on helping administrators understand the value of their staff members going through a NAI certification program.  How can we best explain the merits to individuals that may not be familiar with NAI or the field of Interpretation in general?

The NAI website has solid wording about what the certifications include but not much describing what individuals and institutions gain as a result.  I regularly use skills I gained from being certified.  It gave me a foundation of understanding about this profession I would not otherwise have.  It also helped me asses my skills and improve them.  That’s valuable but… can it be quantified?

What points can we make that will resonate with the people who manage our budgets?  My first thought was: improved interpretation improves visitor experience which is likely to increase repeat visits by individuals and groups, thus growing revenue.  In a general sense, professional development keeps staff engaged and therefore more productive.  What do you think?  I would love to hear any ideas people have on making the merits of certification more interpret-able.

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Who Do You Invest In?

When I think back on my life, I remember a number of people who invested in me.  This list includes people like family members and teachers.  For the past 29 years, my wife has been the biggest influence on my life.  She has helped me to become a better man.  She has made a significant investment in my life and I hope I have done the same for her.

I get to teach.  I have students who have big dreams that they hope will come true someday.  I take very seriously the idea that I can have a major influence over the direction that they take.  It could mean triumph or it could mean despair.  When we begin the journey with them, we can’t be sure of the outcome.

You may not realize it, but we all influence someone.  You have probably planted or nourished a seed that has flourished into a hope or dream.  I have worked with schoolkids in the past and I know how hard it is.  We may think that they are just passing through and aren’t paying attention.  However, they do notice.  They catch more than we realize.

I say this because it is easy to become complacent.  It may seem like you are just stacking blocks but really you are building a cathedral.  So, who are you investing in?

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The Sunny (Stormy) Southeast

by Marisol Asselta Castro, Regional Director

With the seasons beginning to change in some parts of the region and hurricane season in full, frightening force, I want to take this moment to express a profound wish that all of you are safe and well, along with the communities and resources you’re working to protect.

Hurricane JoseFrom Puerto Rico to Florida and beyond, this has and is going to continue to be a time of high stress, preparation, and recovery. With everything on your collective plates, it’s good to remember that you do have a community of peers working, fighting, and worrying alongside you. Let’s make sure we remember that we’re not alone, and to paraphrase Jane Goodall, the natural world has amazing resilience.

Looking to the future, we have some wonderful Certified Guide and Certified Host courses being offered this fall in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina that can be found in the training calendar section of the NAI National website. Those of us that can make it to the national conference in Spokane this November will look forward to catching up with fellow Sunny Southeasterners and bringing the latest interpretive news home to share with the rest of our region. Finally, a variety of state gatherings are occurring throughout the year, thanks to our wonderful volunteer state coordinators.

We continue to grow as a community, both in-person and online, and that can only lead to a stronger network of support and camaraderie for our region. Thank you all for being such a vital part of it.

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Recertification: It Isn’t Complicated, But Prepare Along the Way

Well, 4 years ago this month, I became a Certified Interpretive Guide. It was a great workshop, learned a lot and met some wonderful new friends. I now find myself ALWAYS pointing out the restrooms and exits first whenever I open a meeting.

What a treat it was to be in a room learning practical things with a group of people who love doing the same things I do. That was 4 years ago. Why is 4 years such an important timeline? If you don’t remember, you haven’t been through recertification lately!

Consider this a reminder. I didn’t even think about certification for the first 2 years. I didn’t keep a journal of those things that would qualify. I didn’t gather and file agendas for the workshops I’ve attended. I didn’t save my registrations. Basically, I didn’t save anything!

For the last two years, I’ve been more careful. I’ve been thinking about my recertification a little and squirreling away documentation. It isn’t hard. And it doesn’t take that long to gather enough for 40 hours (the requirement for CIG), but it does take doing it.


Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshop 2017 (Birdwalk)

I’m preparing my package to send off to NAI later this month. From the Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshops I’ve attended the last several years to a National Audubon Society Conference this year, an Alabama day-long NAI retreat and a statewide Scenic Byways workshop on historic assets, I’ve got what seems to be more than enough information gathered.


Alabama Scenic Byways Workshop Training (Using Your Historic Assets Wisely)

The sooner I start for the next cycle (tomorrow), the sooner I can cross that off my list of things to worry about and get back to what I enjoy doing–namely, helping people better understand the natural world in Alabama and all the things our state has to offer.

But gathering the information really provides an opportunity to reflect and redirect, where needed, what I do to educate myself and keep up with what’s happening in the world around me!

NAI’s Guide to Recertification can be found here.

More information about certification and recertification can be found here.

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Interpretation Broadens Horizons

Interpretation Broadens Horizons

By Cindy Carpenter

It’s 4 a.m. on a mid-June morning. Already sunshine and a fresh breeze stream through my hotel room’s open windows. A cuckoo calls repeatedly from the woods nearby, but I don’t mind being awakened this way. I am in Belarus, on assignment with the US Forest Service’s International Programs to teach NAI interpretation principles to college students, employees from national parks, reserves, and travel agencies, and independent guides from around this eastern European country.  Another Forest Service CIT and I engaged 18 English speakers in the 4-day CIG workshop, followed by a three day non-certification workshop for 16 Russian speakers, working through translators. Our host was the Belarusian Association of Agro- and Ecotourism “Country Escape,” a non-profit, nongovernmental organization working to help rural economies through tourism.

We were moved by the passion participants in both workshops conveyed for their country and culture in discussions and in their presentations. Topics for the 10-minute CIG presentations included traditional women’s costumes, stork conservation, illiteracy, the endangered Belarusian language, rural life, a historic castle and church, hiking safety, mushroom gathering, traditional festivals, and river and biodiversity protection. Can you imagine the challenge of presenting in a language not your native one, let alone tackling the literature review? Sam Ham’s Interpretation- Making a Difference on Purpose is the only CIG book translated into Russian, the language most common in Belarus.

Participants in the non-CIG course worked in small inter-generational groups to develop plans for four multi-day tours, including interpretive themes and experiences along the way. One revolved around the theme “landscapes create history,” others on wellness, birding, and clean air and water. A challenge that came out of these is the unpredictable nature of traffic and the timing of public transportation across Belarus.

The workshop participants’ patriotism became particular poignant for me when I compared the context of their lives with mine. Those closest to my age had parents who lived through World War II which devastated Belarus. They experienced life under communism when part of the Soviet Union, the fear created by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and Belarus independence in 1991. Their presentations celebrated their nation.

The workshops took place on the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve northeast of Minsk, the nation’s capital and most populated city. Forests, meadows and bogs provide habitat for diverse life that includes what is considered Europe’s “Big Four” – elk, moose, brown bear and bison, and a number of rare species. One night the sounds of wolves flowed into my room.  Reserve naturalists guided both classes along a fascinating ecology trail with signage along the way identifying flora and fauna and interpreting natural processes, most in Russian with attractive artwork, sometimes with cartoons. On two evenings I enjoyed music gatherings and fondly recall the shared enthusiasm with which the two generations of workshop participants sang traditional folksongs.

Belarus tourism emphasizes personal interpretation. The experienced guides had previous training in a European model and know their subjects well. Mythology is often used to convey ecological concepts and attract interest. However, the power of a strong theme and the concept that audiences make their own meanings were new to them to put into practice.

Heritage interpretation certainly crosses many boundaries- age, culture, national, ecological. Like travel, it broadens one’s horizons.  I learned more and was inspired more than I can convey by the people I met, their wonderful work in the workshops, and conversations outside class. I hope that through applying interpretive best practices and creativity, everyone I met can make the facts matter to their audiences, enhance the context of their fascinating stories, inspire protection of their special places, and be, as I am, continually enriched by Interpretation.


Workshop participant Sviatlana Pametska explains features of an interpretive sign along an ecology trail on the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve.

Russian speakers (5)

Katsiaryna Bernatskaya and Anastasiya Rashetnikava share aspects of the ecotour plan that they designed.


“Bog Man” teaches about life in these unique habitats protected on the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve.

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Eclipse Moments

Many moons ago—literally, I was privileged to share the Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse with family in Vermont. The media had mentioned it and people would be able to view it if there was not cloud cover in their area, but it didn’t receive the media frenzy of this solar eclipse. Looking back on August 21, 2017, it seemed as if “Everyone under the sun” was anticipating the eclipse. Media coverage was along the path of the total eclipse that was passing through the United States. Stadiums and large venues held eclipse viewings and people flocked to the total eclipse areas to share in this phenomenon. Eclipse gatherings of all sizes in all places were happening and warnings to “avoid looking directly at the sun” were posted and repeated constantly.

As I drove north on Friday, there were large flashing roadwork signs along I-75 N between Cleveland and Knoxville Tennessee that warned “Do not park along this road during the eclipse!”. Radios continued to reiterate that no one should look to the sun without proper ISO approved glasses…which at this point were nearly impossible to find. Welder’s helmets #12 and up were approved as a backup viewing device and Harbor Freight was selling out of those quickly.

America was in a frenzy and the excitement leading up to the big event was growing. Teachers didn’t want their students to miss this opportunity and glasses were donated to some schools by sponsors. Libraries even wrote grants months in advance to get a bundle of glasses to hand out free weeks before the eclipse. Websites were being updated on who had glasses left in stock, and recalls from Amazon on unapproved ISO glasses hit the news.

This event was huge and important. The eclipse was so big that people of all races, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds came together to view it. It was a moment in time (actually several minutes from start to finish) where everyone was in awe and peace was present. Why not? There were no sides to take — like a football game or boxing match. It was an event that was going to happen whether you believed it would or not. Some people were just not caught up in the hype and posted so on Facebook. Yet, I believe that they too partook in the event, there was no way around it. Even if you dismissed this eclipse, you were still affected by it. The shadows of the moon passed over them too.

My Mom hosted a little gathering of just family. Moon pies and Sun-chips were among the spread that day. She received her glasses on Friday from a last minute order and she was like a kid in the candy store. All this was coming together for her and she was going to make the best of it. Now we weren’t in the path of the total eclipse, Ohio was getting approximately 80% coverage, but just being part of something bigger was exhilarating! Sharing it with her children and grandchildren and making memories was worth the extra expedite shipping charge, and it was worth every moment to be there.

As a nature lover and naturalist, my experience was a bit different. How you ask? I observe things differently. We went outside well before the eclipse was to start and we gathered the glasses and lawn chairs. It was a “normal” day in my Mom’s backyard. The birds were singing and chirping as they were eating at the feeders, the rabbits were at the edge of the shrub line eating clover, squirrels were chattering up in the trees. Then the moon’s path began across the sun and the color of the sky dimmed making the surrounding area seem like a storm front was coming through. At that moment, the silence was deafening! Birds were no longer at the feeders, rabbits and squirrels were gone….nothing moved and there was absolutely no nature sounds. Even the breeze that rustled the leaves earlier stopped. The hush that took over was overwhelming and I was in a backyard neighborhood. I wondered what it would have been like sitting in a meadow or the woods surrounded by wildlife. Would the silence be as deafening? I mentioned it to those around me and they even noticed that the bees had left the flower beds. Erie? Strange? Amazing? The experience was all of these things.
We weren’t in a stadium with thousands of others surrounding us. We didn’t cheer as the moon darkened the path of the sun. We stood in amazement, awe and wonder at the beauty around us and above us. It was a “once in a lifetime” experience that was shared and one that will never be forgotten. Where will I be “God willing” during the next solar eclipse on April 8, 2024? In Ohio, with my family making more memories under a total eclipse. I can’t wait to see the 360 degree sunset and listen for the stillness then.     Photo from NASA

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Interpretive Opportunities Involve Risks

Just as in life, we need to not be afraid to take risks in our profession. Without taking risks interpreters cannot learn how to best reach our audiences.  Now is an exciting time to be an interpreter.  Society is becoming more interconnected than ever allowing for us to reach people who may not have considered a visit a museum or historic site in the past.  Now, through the use of technology, educators can meet these individuals on their terms to provide an interpretive opportunity.  Since interpreters are blazing new territory by engaging potential using technology, think cell phones and apps, some ideas may work better than others.

One idea I read about recently on MuseumNext’s website was a museum got on Tinder to engage people.  Tinder?  Yes, Tinder.  For those of you who do not know what is “Tinder”, it is a dating app where people can swipe left or right depending on the profile of an individual in front of them.  The Royal Ontario Museum’s Digital Engagement Coordinator put their T. Rex on Tinder in order to engage individuals.  People on Tinder do not typically go to museums, so what an excellent way to engage people on their terms.  Think about it for a moment, you are swiping through an app then a T. Rex pops up on your screen.  Who doesn’t swipe right to match with them?  Seriously?!  Once you have sparked interest, you can start a dialogue in order to engage them with a one on one conversation and possibly bring them into your site.  The author was focused on getting more visitors to a special Friday night program held a handful of times throughout the year.  How are they doing on Tinder?  Here is a quote directly from the article:


Think an 18th century Swiss soldier could use Tinder?

We’ve been running this pilot since May 12, 2017. Tonight, June 2nd, 2017 will be Teddy’s fourth time on the platform. We only engage with people during #FNLROM which runs from 7-11pm on Fridays.”

Through a targeted approach the engagement is focused towards advertising for a certain program.  Keeping everyone on task.  If this test is judged successful enough, possibly the museum can look at using this as a way to engage potential visitors with even more educational content and get them into the museum.  Maybe even a meet and greet not for others who want a safe place to meet the T. Rex plus others who were charmed by a dinosaur on Tinder.

Putting a museum “mascot” on Tinder can be risky to say the least.  However, look at the potential rewards.  You are engaging with people not typically heading to a museum for fun about an activity they can do on a Friday night through the use of a dinosaur.  While it may not always work, you can learn a great about getting a new demographic of visitors to your site.  You may not use Tinder to accomplish this task, but since we are all creative individuals as interpreters, do not be afraid of pushing the envelope to create the interpretive opportunity we are strive to achieve.


Pretty sure Charlie would do better than me at getting people to talk to him on Tinder or anywhere else.


If you want to read the article:


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Summer Reflection

August is here and summer is slooooowly drawing to close. Some of you may be done with summer programming and others may be still working through a few more weeks of camp (schools starts soon, right? RIGHT?!?). As we wind down what is, for most sites, an incredibly busy season, take time to rest, recharge, and reflect. This might mean going on a staff field trip to celebrate surviving the summer or hiding under your desk for a well-deserved nap (for my managers who may be reading, I promise I have almost never done this). Be sure to take some time to think back on camps and/or summer programs. This is your one chance to remember and write it all down before diving into the Fall season! Consider….

  • Which programs/camps worked?
  • Which did not?
  • Why didn’t they work the way I wanted them to? Should I change my parameters (age, space, time) or my focus (the topic rocks but do I need to address it differently)?
  • Why did they work the way I wanted them to? How can I duplicate this radical success next year?
  • Did I remember to lock up all the canoes?
  • How did my totally awesome co-workers support me this summer? How can I plan to support them next year?
  • After I planned for everything, what issues came up that I didn’t plan for?
  • What was the best part of the summer for me? How can I try to replicate this feeling next summer?

Every day(camp) offers a new learning opportunity, even for the most jaded interpretation professional. Take what you have learned, use your experiences, and create something even better for next year!

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So a few of you are aware I’m about ten years behind when it comes to technological tools. A tool I’ve recently adopted (within the past two weeks) is that of a podcast.  For some generations and users this is a tool that’s been around since 2005ish. Yup, I’m late to the party.

Does anyone subscribe to any podcasts that relate to your job or interpretation?

In an attempt to continue to find nuggets to become a better interpreter, manager, Dad, human, I’m always looking at ways to sharpen myself and learn. For me this has traditionally come through articles, books, mentors, and conferences. One night I decided to hit the podcast icon on my phone and see what happens.  Little did I know there are so many relatable podcast topics out there that relate to our field of interpretation.

I personally enjoy leadership tidbits so I typed in leadership. Numerous podcasts with examples of topics and issues I find in the workplace appeared. The next button I hit was SUBSCRIBE.  I did this for three different pod casts and now my morning commute becomes a thirty to forty minute leadership session and a way to start reflecting about my work day and work on me.

For fun, I typed in “interpretation.” Interpreting dreams, interpreting religion, and interpreting language seemed to be the common themes in those podcasts. I then tried “Nature”.  Some fun podcasts came up relating to sounds, birds, philosophy, medicine, and recent science talks at museums. Typing in “Naturalist” will also bring you some great choices with regional relevance.

Whether you’re late to the party or not, I encourage you to give it a try. If you’re looking for good discussion with your staff, share a podcast with them to discuss. If you’re looking for guidance on managerial or staffing issues check out some of the podcasts out there. If you want to listen to the style of other naturalists, or see what’s going on with your regional phenology there’s podcasts out there. Perhaps this tool can help you research and develop your next interpretive talk.  Millions of Americans listen to podcasts monthly, perhaps this is another way for interpreters to sharpen and share our craft.

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