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Yeah! New Aquarium 101 program went well!

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Education | Volunteering

Monday, January 21, 2008


Well, we did it! We held our first one-day Aquarium 101 training session for volunteers on Saturday and it went off with very few glitches! Yeah! You have no idea how relieved we trainers are about this! Also, Sean, our head of Volunteer Services, who spent the day with us, said he was thrilled with how well the day went.

Aquarium 101, for those of you who didn’t read my previous blog on the topic, is required for everyone who comes to work at the Aquarium of the Pacific in any capacity, whether volunteer or paid staff member. On the volunteer side, positions include working in guest services or as exhibit interpreters, divers, or husbandry staff members. 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.

We started the day promptly at 8:30 a.m. in the Honda Theater with a nice welcome video by Jerry Schubel, the Aquarium’s chief executive officer, who is very supportive of the volunteers. He started by telling our new recruits the Aquarium’s mission, which is “To instill a sense of wonder, respect, and stewardship for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants, and ecosystems.”

Jerry, by the way, has offered to give his welcome speech in person whenever he is in town, which is a good example of how much he appreciates what we do. It’s nice to be appreciated, and that appreciation of our work is evident throughout the institution in the way that paid staff members interact with volunteers.

After the welcome video ended, we introduced ourselves before leading our new volunteers out for tours of the Aquarium. Seasoned tour givers Barbara, Lou, Norm, and Jim joined me and the other trainers, Val, Kim, Susan, and Bill in guiding these tours.

Barbara, Lou, Norm, and Jim have been tour guides for Aquarium 101 for quite a while, coming in on what used to be the first day of Aquarium 101, to give new recruits a fun look at the exhibits and teaching them about some of the wonderful creatures who live therein.

On what was the second day of training, they stayed home and only the trainers took new volunteers around to learn all the safety features of the Aquarium.

Now, with a one-day program, we combined the two tours, cutting out some of the fun animal stuff and adding all the safety components that are important to an operation such as ours and including some of the Aquarium’s green features as well. You can read more about those in my Oct. 30 blog.

I don’t know how Barbara, Lou, and Jim, learned the ropes of the new tour, but Norm, who works on my shift, and I spent an hour going over it last Tuesday, as he wanted to make extra specially sure that he knew all the ins and outs of the tour components with which he was less familiar, and am I glad we did! While I was involved in planning the combined tour on paper, I hadn’t walked the route on my own and that exercise with Norm was incredibly worthwhile for me as well!

Norm wanted to get a good feel for the tour before giving one himself, and I really needed to walk through it myself to make sure that I knew it well. I don’t know how good a job I did at conducting the tour on Saturday, but I do know that Norm did a bang-up job, as evidenced by a few of the comments we got from our students, who filled out a questionnaire about the program at the end of the day.

At the end of the tour, I and a group of four new volunteers—three of them exhibit interpreters and one an aquarist—met up with the rest of the class at our designated meeting place out near Shark Lagoon. Once everyone arrived, we trekked over to our classroom, which is located about five minutes away on foot, across the street from the Aquarium, in the office building in which the bulk of our administrative offices are located. Because a portion of freeway runs between the two buildings, we have to walk around and under that roadway to get to the classroom.

Box lunches awaited us in the classroom, as we are providing sustenance in order to keep the day streamlined rather than have everyone get food on their own, and then meet us after they eat. This is another change from when we conducted a two-day program.

After going over the Aquarium’s mission again, we had what we like to call our “Eat and Greet,” during which time the volunteers ate lunch and took the time to meet each other partly by going over a series of questions they were to ask others to learn a little about them. They were instructed to get an answer to each of the questions, never using the same person as an answer to more than one question. Included was learning such things as who speaks a foreign language, who has had a very interesting experience—one guy bungee jumped in Las Vegas—and who has traveled outside of the United States.

In addition to the safety component of the tour, the main safety information of the day came next, led by Bill, who was on his first foray at leading a portion of the class by himself, and he did a GREAT job!

Another class component, that in which harassment is discussed, could have been very boring, but thanks to a presentation by Kathie, from our human resources department, who came in on her day off, this portion of the training actually was the hit of the day among the new volunteers, as evidenced by their comments on a form we gave them to fill out at the end of the day. Go figure. It shows that with a good presenter, even the most boring of things can turn out to be enjoyable!

Susan, Val, Kim, and I handled various other components of the afternoon session. I paired up with Kim to cover what we call “Excellence squared” or E to the second power, delineating the ways that volunteers can help turn what could be an ordinary experience into an extraordinary one for our guests.

As promised, the day for the new volunteers ended on time, with them getting out five minutes before 5 p.m., the designated ending time. After they left, the trainers and Sean met to go over all student comments about the day as well as to debrief and determine what went well and what could be changed or eliminated from the program.

A few of the students commented that it was a bit of a long day, saying they felt that the training could be cut down a little bit, but so much of the material is crucial to giving newcomers a good understanding of our operation that cutting it down too much is not really feasible.

We did find some places in which we could drop a few things and/or combine them with others, however, and we determined that we explained a few things too much in detail and could cut back a bit in those areas, as well. We also noted a few redundancies that we could eliminate.

Now, Sean is going to have Shannon of his staff rework the PowerPoint presentation a touch to reflect the changes we decided we want to make, and we should be ready to roll again on February 16, when we hold our next Aquarium 101.

While this process to convert a two-day program into a one-day class has been a bit lengthy, it certainly was worth doing! Conducting a one day session once a month rather than two days of classes every other month, makes it easier on people who find it difficult to devote two Saturdays in a row to training.

Even though none of the trainers regularly work on Saturdays, coming in to train our new volunteers continues to be an energizing experience for which we are willing to give up a weekend day. I was talking about this with Kim during a break, and we agreed that we keep coming back because of the enthusiasm of our new recruits, who make it all worthwhile.

Now, I can’t wait to see these folks our new volunteers from this past Saturday in action as they start working at the Aquarium in the variety of areas in which they have chosen to work.

Now, my question to you is, when are you going to join us? If you’re interested in volunteering, you can learn more on our volunteering page, then fill out our online form and be on your way to joining us in one of our new one-day Aquarium 101 sessions. I hope to see you there!

Yeah! New Aquarium 101 program went well!
Our values here at the Aquarium of the Pacific include Service Excellence Safety, Stewardship, Pride, and Education, as seen on this slide, taken from our Aquarium 101 PowerPoint presentation.  | Aquarium 101 PowerPoint presentation

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