by Ashley Bradt, Education Interpreter and High School Intern Program Manager
Every summer, we have a group of interns that take over the Aquarium floor with vibrant energy and youthful smiles. I manage a group of ten high school students and it is my favorite time of the year! This generation of millennials are so important and vital to our future. We empower our student interns to develop values that will shape their future and impact their decisions for the rest of their lives… how powerful. Our High School Internship Program is one of the most competitive and rigorous programs around, which I am proud to be a small part of. We usually receive over 100 applicants, interview 50, accept 20 into the 5 months of training classes, and then accept 10 of those to participate in a paid internship during the summer. We truly have the best of the best by the summertime.
Millennials are the next generation of people that have a real possibility of making positive changes in our world. It is refreshing and hopeful to see such passionate young adults, eager to learn and to educate all of our guests at the South Carolina Aquarium. It is vital, as their supervisor, that I teach them the power of education and just how much of a difference they can make.
During their internship, the students are members of the Education Department. Their job is to help guests make connections with the animals and habitats of South Carolina in a way that they will remember… a.k.a. “interpretation.” They interact with guests using animals and artifacts that they can get up close to and feel, help guests touch marine animals in the touch tank and help guests come “fingers to fins” with sharks in our new Shark Shallows exhibit. Two weeks into the program, they are already creating a positive experience for our guests with their presence on the floor. What they probably don’t realize yet is the impact that they are making from every moment they are interpreting with guests.
We teach the interns the art of interpretation and encourage them to be creative when communicating with guests, thinking outside of the box and making real connections with the guests.
One of the interns, sharing his experience in a blog, wrote “Carlos and I had out the humpback whale rib and vertebrae and its baleen, showing them to guests just entering the Aquarium. A small boy was checking them out and commenting on how huge they were when out of nowhere he mentioned that he had a pet gerbil. Carlos, his parents and I started to chuckle a little bit, and trying to work in a connection, I asked if his gerbil was as big as a whale to which he immediately responded that it was, with complete and total confidence. It was just a fun time talking to him and his parents and seeing how interested he was in the whale bones, especially since he made an instant connection to an animal he is familiar with, even if it wasn’t as big as he thought it was, and clearly having a fun time.”
After I read that, I thought to myself… “He gets it.” Although these high school students are still discovering their passions and exploring their future career path, they are beginning to understand the power of interpretation and how it can impact visitors’ in lasting ways. I am so proud to be able to teach these young minds their importance and the positive ways that they can change the world.