Smithsonian staff and volunteers work countless hours in the halls of our museums and research centers, in the field, at the Zoo, in our gardens and facilities. We are privileged to spend time with some of the nation’s most cherished treasures as we go about our duties. Sometimes, these unique experiences find a special place in our own personal stories. Amy Kehs introduces Josie Fan and a few of her favorite things.
The Smithsonian has over 6,000 volunteers that work onsite at our facilities and another 7,500 that participate in projects online. Since we’ve just introduced a new feature on Torch, “Volunteer Voices,” it seems like the perfect time to ask one of our volunteers about a few of her favorite things. Josie Fan has been volunteering at the Smithsonian for almost two years. After graduating from American University in the winter of 2014 and starting her career, she was looking for a way to fill her time on the weekends. Volunteering at the Smithsonian seemed like an amazing opportunity to meet people, so she applied and was accepted. She is able to customize her volunteer schedule so that it fits into her busy life with a full time job. From 2016 to 2017, Josie rotated between the Q?rious Center at the Natural History Museum and the Castle’s visitor information desk. When she changed jobs she had to shift her schedule a bit; currently she volunteers at the Castle and helps occasionally at the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
Josie chose the Q?rious Center at NMNH as her first Smithsonian favorite. “I really love watching the young visitors come in not knowing what to expect,” says Josie. “When they find out that they will be touching some of the objects in the collection they are amazed and get so excited.” Josie herself grew up in China before moving to Florida when she was 14. She is often reminded of her own childhood when she meets young visitors.
“There were very few opportunities for experiences like the ‘Q?rious Center’ when I was growing up,” she says. “It makes me think about what an impact it must be having to experience the interactive exhibits.” She also loves that the experience doesn’t end when they leave the museum.
“With the Q cards at ‘Q?rious Center,’ visitors can scan the specimen and save the information to their own online ‘Field Book’ so they can access the same information once they get home.”
Josie’s second favorite thing at the Smithsonian is the “First Ladies” exhibit at the National Museum of American History, located on the third floor of the museum. The “First Ladies” exhibit needs no introduction—the collection contains gowns worn by every first lady from Martha Washington to Melania Trump and is one of the most popular exhibitions at the Smithsonian. The current exhibit features more than two dozen gowns from the collection, including gowns worn by Frances Cleveland, Lou Hoover, Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. Josie appreciates that “First Ladies” is not just about fashion, but also about the stories the gowns tell about the personalities of the women who wore them and the image they presented to the public. “I like that the exhibit encourages us to think about how the role of the First Lady and American women in general has changed over the past 200 years,” Josie says.
Finally, Josie counts her Smithsonian home base—the Visitor Information Desk at the Castle—among her favorite things. The desk is a hub of information that serves as a place of welcome and orientation for the visitors. She not only helps give a good overview of the Smithsonian but she often helps visitors with information for Washington DC in general. “I love that this job has helped me become more familiar with my new home town,” she says. “It can be challenging because new questions pop up every day but I enjoy helping to find the answers.” Josie’s volunteer badge identifies her as fluent in Chinese. “I am very happy when I can help visitors with the language barrier and make their visit and experience a bit smoother,” she says.
When I asked Josie what she likes most about volunteering at the Smithsonian she says that she enjoys letting people know about the massive amounts of Smithsonian resources and research that are available.
“Everyone is amazed to find out that we only display a very small percentage of the collection and that so much more is there and accessible to them,” Josie says. “It is tremendous to think about and really exciting to share that knowledge with visitors. Many times I like to think that even though the museums are a place to preserve history, they are also the birthplace of creativity.”
Posted: 18 May 2018