As a kid, Carrie McClure hated school field trips to local museums. She couldn't understand why her teachers insisted on dragging the class through "dusty, boring old buildings."
More than a decade later, the senior anthropology and religion double major from Suttons Bay, Michigan, couldn't feel more differently, and she wants to share her new passion for museums with others.
That's why she's spending her summer completing an internship at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. In the office of Education and Outreach, she works alongside volunteers and staff to engage visitors — especially children — with exhibits.
McClure came to CMU intending to become a teacher but wanted to pursue the ideas she was learning in her anthropology and religion classes.
"I have always had a curiosity about other people," she said. "I wanted to know more about their lives and to understand their beliefs."
Her advisor, Laura Cochrane, a faculty member in anthropology, suggested there might be a way to combine her love of working with children with her passion for learning about other cultures: working in museums.
After spending time visiting museums all over the state, McClure had an epiphany: Exhibits could be engaging and interactive, and children could have a great time while learning. The key ingredient was a passionate volunteer or staffer to lead the way.
She shadowed museum coordinators, trained with volunteers and toured with school groups to gain a better understanding of the ways children experience the museum. Her assignment: Find ways to help volunteers engage and work more interactively with visitors at the exhibits.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History is home to more than 126 million cultural artifacts and natural science specimens.
Ready to lead and succeed
"The skills I've been developing as a Leadership Safari guide have really come in handy here. I need to create an environment that is really welcoming and engaging, and I'm certainly putting my communication skills to work," she said. After observing many student groups and talking with volunteers, she's developed some preliminary suggestions for her supervisor.
"I'm looking at the role technology plays and ways volunteers and staff can immediately grab a child's attention and keep them excited."
McClure hopes to continue volunteering and working in museums as she completes her senior year. For now, she's enjoying playing tourist in her summer hometown of Washington, D.C., and taking advantage of the free admission to the Smithsonian's 17 museums and galleries.