Interview by Alex Hanson
Photo: Saran working at the museum. Courtesy of Saran Toure.
One of my favorite place in New York City is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Naturally, I find myself there often, and on one of my most recent visits I met Saran Toure, a high school student and Saltz Intern at AMNH. Saran was posted at the upper level of the Hall of Ocean Life, at a cart fitted with tanks of plankton, dishes, and magnifying glasses. She was answering questions from museum visitors as well as facilitating plankton observation and dishing out amazing facts about the tiny sea creatures, including the fact that jellyfish are a type of plankton! I was struck by Saran’s impressive ability to share her knowledge in a fun and engaging way, so I caught up with her in an email interview in December to ask her about her amazing internship and her goals for the future.
What does your internship at the American Museum of Natural History entail?
As a Saltz Intern at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), I work a total of 5 hours a weekend. I am assigned a new cart every weekend, and I have to study my cart guides thoroughly to be able to teach visitors about the contents of my cart. There are at least 15 different carts throughout the Museum at any given time, and each cart has at least one Saltz intern. Before the start of the internship, all the interns complete a four-day orientation where we learn different teaching methods, learning styles, and other things that would help us interact with visitors.
How did you find this internship?
I found out about this internship through a faculty member at the museum. I’ve done a number of after school programs at the AMNH, and one of my program coordinators recommended it for me.
What is your favorite part about this job?
My absolute favorite part of being a Saltz Intern would have to be the look of astonishment on the face of visitors when I tell them a really cool fact, or when I see them connecting what they already know with new information. I usually get a ton of visitors while I’m working, and I get pretty worn out, but then some visitors come along, and they’re so engaged and genuinely interested in the cart and that makes my whole entire day because I get to inspire them to think deeper and encourage them to deepen their interests. Those people are the reason I show up at the museum every weekend.
What has been your most memorable experience working the booth in the museum?
I’ve only been a Saltz Intern for a month, but my most memorable experience working on the carts happened when I was working in the North American Birds hall in the museum. I was working with another Saltz Intern, and we had a falcon wing, owl skull, a catbird nest with fossilized catbird eggs. Everything on the cart was real, but my partner and I thought the eggs were only models. Imagine our surprise when a very rowdy kid came up to the cart, ruffled our feathers (literally), messed up our nests, and picked up a catbird egg crushing it with his tiny man-hands. The worse part of the whole thing was that he didn’t even apologize. It was a very stressful day for me and my co-worker.
What are you interested in for your post-high school life? Has your internship affected your goals at all?
I don’t have anything specific I want to study post-high school, but I do want to deepen my interests in both Global Health and political science. I am interested in a variety of things, and I really just want to explore the world after high school. I chose to do this internship partly because I love talking about science and participating in this internship has really broadened my views and exposed me to so many different sciences. Also, I share a lot of my adventures on Instagram (@hipster.ical), and occasionally post heartfelt inspiring things I encounter on my journeys.
Who are you role models in life and why?
My role models in life would have to be my 9th grade English teacher, and my old Model United Nations supervisor. I absolutely admire my English teacher’s attitude towards life. She is the most positive person I know, she is super passionate and understanding, and is one of those people everyone should have in their corner. My Model United Nations supervisor, on the other hand, has such a consistent and contagious drive for success. He has such an amiable personality and inspires me in ways unimaginable. I aspire to affect the lives of those around me the way these two individuals have affected my life.
What’s your favorite exhibit or section of the Museum of Natural History?
My favorite exhibit would have to be the Hall of the Universe, which has the Hayden Planetarium. I absolutely love the Hall of the Universe, it has a spiral staircase that takes you through the birth of our universe, you can calculate your weight on other planets, the Hayden Planetarium is amazing, and I just love learning about stars and outer space.