Tuesday, November 27, 2007
A few months ago I was asked to join the Aquarium 101 training team for volunteer recruits, and I thought that it sounded like fun, so I said yes, and I’m very glad that I did! Aquarium 101 is sort of like the basic training for Aquarium of the Pacific employees and volunteer recruits. Paid staff members attend a weekday Aquarium 101, while the volunteer version, taught by an all-volunteer training team, is held on Saturdays.
It’s really something to see the enthusiasm of our new volunteers. They are so eager to start working as soon as possible, and the trainers all do their best to match that enthusiasm (it’s really easy, since everyone on the training team IS very enthusiastic about the work) and give them a fun time while they’re in class learning about the ins and outs of working at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
In case you were wondering, Aquarium 101 is required for everyone who comes to work at the Aquarium in any capacity, which includes being guest services volunteers, divers, or husbandry staff. Prospective divers and husbandry volunteers usually start working on what we call the “dry” side of the Aquarium, either as exhibit interpreters or in some other capacity, with exhibit interpreters also being required to take a five-Saturday Critter College to learn the basics about our animals.
Continuing education opportunities, including evening lectures and weekly volunteer updates that provide additional information about the animals, help them further their knowledge, often providing interesting anecdotes about the creatures as well.
Once exhibit interpreters finish the first or second Critter College session, they can start working the exhibits, first shadowing experienced volunteers and, once they feel comfortable, venturing out to staff stations on their own.
But I digress, so back to Aquarium 101.
Susan, Val, and Kim are our expert trainers, and Bill and I started by shadowing them a few sessions ago, before starting to teach alongside them. A few others will start as trainer trainees beginning with our next Aquarium 101 session on January 19. That’s when we conduct our first one-day Aquarium 101; until now, the program has been held on two consecutive Saturdays. We are changing to the one-day program so that our new volunteers don’t have to attend two Saturdays in a row, something that has proven to be a hardship for some.
I think we, as trainers, will like it better that way, too, even though our training sessions will end more around 5:30 p.m. or later, rather than 2:30 p.m. or so, when conducting the two-day course sessions.
Also, now Aquarium 101 will be offered every month, instead of every other month, thus shortening the amount of time many prospective volunteers have to wait after their initial entrance interviews, which are held on a monthly basis.
The volunteer trainers met a few weeks ago to work on melding together two training tours, one of them a basic Aquarium tour and the other a safety tour to provide them with all sorts of information regarding safety. We want our new volunteers to have a full understand of our layout, including all the behind-the-scenes areas they will frequent, and help them learn what is required of them as far as safety is concerned. (Partly, this is to comply with Cal-OSHA requirements and partly to ensure both their safety and that of our guests.)
We will meet an additional three times to not only fine-tune the tour, but also to work with Sean, our head of volunteer services, to make sure that all other components of Aquarium 101 are covered for the classroom portion of the program, which he and his staff have been modifying to fit a one-day format.
Training includes teaching about the Aquarium and how it compares to others located throughout the country—ours is the fifth largest, or the 6th largest, in the United States, depending upon whether you look at the number of gallons of water in our exhibits (we have 1.1 million gallons of sea water) or number of animals (we have 12,500)—our finances, the types of volunteer positions we have available, what to wear, where to park, and, most importantly, our mission: To instill a sense of wonder, respect, and stewardship for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants, and ecosystems. (We ask them to recite the mission stattement throughout the day, giving little prizes, like Aquarium key chains or stickers, as prizes.
It’s a lot to take in, but we present the information as simply and enjoyably as possible, in the hopes that the new volunteers have fun and learn a lot, all at the same time. From what I’ve seen, that seems to work!
I look forward to meeting new groups, come January and beyond. Will you, by any chance, be in one of them?
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