Because Ive grown up in the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Im proud to be the community representative chosen to accompany museum director Emlyn Koster to Washington on May 8 to accept the top honor given by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The museum is among five of 17,500 museums in the country to receive the 2014 National Medal, which is given to libraries and museums for their service to the community.
When I was 5, I declared to my parents that I was going to be a marine biologist and aquarium director. I dont recall wanting to be anything else. They took me to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences where I walked around the exhibits and sat for hours sketching fish tanks.
Third grade rolled around, and I signed up for a water-themed summer camp at the museum. I came home the first day covered in mud, carrying a leaky bag of minnows. Adrian Yirka was leading that camp, Aquatic Ecology, and he tells me that as soon as I got my feet wet I leapt to the front of the line and stayed there asking questions. I vividly remember my experience and the joy I felt.
Because I had such a wonderful time, I insisted on going back every year to camps until I outgrew them. I also began my own turtle adoption organization, re-homing unwanted turtles.
In sixth grade, I eagerly sent in my application for the Girls in Science program at the museum. When I was accepted, I was ecstatic. I was greeted the first day by some of the kindest women I still know: Kathryn Fromson, Lynn Cross and Melissa Dowland. I had a great time learning about careers in science and making new friends. I craved more science, absorbing it like a sponge.
In eighth grade, I was accepted into the Junior Curator Program. The application interview required having nature journals, and mine were filled with sketches from my years visiting the museum. Being a junior curator meant joining a long-term program that offered trips, internships and a community of students like me.
I also was allowed to volunteer with the Fish and Invertebrates Department and to begin selling my turtle-shaped soaps in the museum gift shop. The proceeds are donated to the museum.
Last year, I pitched an idea for a STEM Leadership Camp at the museum, and museum staff members agreed! It successfully launched last summer.
The museum is my second home. Its where Im the happiest. My new mentor, Dr. Koster, talks with me often about my career aspirations. The museum has helped shape me into a lifelong learner, an active community member and a leader. No wonder it has been chosen a 2014 IMLS National Medalist. It has earned it.
Molly Paul, 15, is an honors student at St. Marys School in Raleigh and a junior curator at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.