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What the Volunteer Experience Means to Senior Citizen Science Museum Exhibit Interpreters Grant Williams School of Education University of Massachusetts - Amherst University of Massachusetts Amherst
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School of Education
University of Massachusetts - Amherst
This study was conducted under the auspices of the School of Education at UMass-Amherst with guidance from Dr. Linda Griffin and Dr. Patt Dodds
The study was conducted with the gracious assistance of the Museum of Science – Boston and its Senior Interpreters
Why would retired senior citizens want to volunteer their free time in a science museum and what could they possibly have to offer there anyway??
1) What are the personal meanings and effects on senior citizens of their work as volunteer exhibit interpreters at a science museum?
2) What unique qualities do senior citizens bring to the role of exhibit interpreter at a science museum?
In an aging society in which 85 million, 40-58 year old baby boomers currently comprise over 25 percent of the total North American population, it is important to start gaining understanding of the impact of such post-retirement volunteer experiences on the quality of life of senior citizens
In another seven to ten years, there will be unprecedented numbers of senior members of our society who will be prime candidates for this kind of volunteer work
This study focused on nine senior citizens who regularly volunteer one to two days a week as exhibit interpreters at the Museum of Science in Boston
The seniors ranged in age from 66-80 and consisted of 7 men and 2 women. Ethnically, there were 7 Caucasians and 2 Asians
The fieldwork and data collection took the following three forms:
1) Personal Interviews
2) Field Notes
3) Document Reviews
1) A personal tape recorded interview with each of the participants (approx. 60-90 min. each) broken into three sections:
a) The focused life history
b) The details of experience
c) Reflection on the meaning
2) Written field notes of observations of each of the participants at work.
Their verbal and non-verbal interactions with museum visitors, other interpreters and staff were noted with specific reflections on their use of questioning, delivery, timing, humor, facial expression, body position, contact with others, gesturing, etc.
3) Review of written documents provided by the Museum of Science. These included:
Museum of Science Vision Statement
Museum of Science Volunteer Newsletter
Museum of Science Volunteer Guidebook
List of Online Resources for Volunteer Services
After transcription of the interviews was completed and triangulated with field notes and other documents, the process of creating explicit Categories and subtle Themes was undertaken
With Respect to the first purpose of the study, it was determined that the informal science volunteer experience meant many things to the seniors
The following slides contain quotes from the interviews to represent these meanings:
“I can associate with people to whom science is important. I learn something new every time I come here. I'm using some of the knowledge that I have.”
“I’m used to being intellectually stimulated and this keeps it up. Because if you're not, all you're interested in is watching the Patriots and the Red Sox.”
“The great thing is when you see something in a kid's eyes. A-ha!”
“Oh, my - this place is an oasis. It really is. Because when I get home, not only is my daughter ailing, but my wife's having some problems. And I come over here and it gives me an opportunity to do something else that involves kids running around, doing this and that, and people interacting with the people here you know just - something completely different – an escape”
Each and every one of the nine participants in the study shared a very salient trait as expressed by the following answers to the question,
“How old do you feel on the inside?”
“I don't feel that old. I have to keep telling myself that I'm old. There's gotta be aches and pains in places, but I don't feel them.”
“My attitude is that I'm in my 40s. I've had experience in life, OK, and I can go ahead and onward. I'm still active, I'm still learning things, OK, I'm not out the in the workplace, but nonetheless, I'm learning things.”
In repeatedly hearing this theme of “eternal youthfulness”, one has to ask the question of whether this is simply a shared quality of those seniors who chose to this activity.
- or -
perhaps it is the activity of informal science education volunteering that has fostered this incredible attitude within them.
With respect to the second purpose of the study, it was discovered that senior citizens bring unique and valuable traits and talents to the work of informal science education.
This study has brought to the surface many important aspects of the value and importance of senior volunteerism in informal science education.
Considering the demographics of North American life and an aging population, this study contributes important information to the understanding of the effects of this type of activity on seniors and the special roles they play within it.
STE programs need to include components focusing on: