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Volunteer Contributions to Citizen Science

October 30, 2014

MLMP Volunteers The Museum’s citizen science program is strong, with several staff across multiple departments involved in creating projects, disseminating information, writing grants, or training members of the public to participate in scientific research as citizen scientists. However, even strong citizen science programs need a little extra help from time to time! Thanks to a small army of citizen science volunteers, we are able to offer more programs at more times in more places than we could on our own. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways that our wonderful volunteers enrich our citizen science program!

Some people really enjoy working with the public, so we offer several volunteer opportunities for people who want to teach or interact with lots of other people:

Wading for Water Sticks

Citizen Science Saturday. We offer a drop-in nature hike with a citizen science focus each Saturday at Prairie Ridge. Over the course of an hour, our visitors learn something new about the natural world, collect data, and learn enough about a citizen science project that they can do it anywhere on their own. This program is 75% volunteer led, with volunteers teaching the public about the topics they personally love while demonstrating how everyone can contribute to our understanding of the natural world.

Citizen Science Carts. We have a program cart devoted entirely to citizen science! You’ll see it out and about on the Museum floor, especially in the Nature Research Center. The cart is about 95% volunteer led. The intrepid cart volunteers teach Museum visitors about a nature-themed topic and a citizen science project they can do to learn more about it. There are fun activities and lots of new discoveries – and many of the carts were co-developed by volunteers! The cart program couldn’t exist without the volunteers who lead it, so we are dependent on the awesome people who donate their time to keep it going.

Ladybug Hunt VolunteerSpecial Events. We often offer citizen science workshops or activities at Museum special events like BugFest and Reptile and Amphibian Day and Prairie Ridge special events such as Take a Child Outside and Gnomes and Fairies Spring Up on the Prairie. We also have multiple citizen science-themed special events at Prairie Ridge, including our annual Moths at Night event for National Moth Week and the Statewide Star Party for the NC Science Festival. Citizen science volunteers help coordinate, develop, and lead activities at these events and are an invaluable resource for our visitors.

Our public volunteers are important, but not everyone wants to work with lots of people. For volunteers who are shy or simply don’t like to work with groups of strangers, we offer other ways they can get involved:

Data Collection. Our data collectors work primarily at Prairie Ridge and spend their time in the field gathering information. We regularly collect data on ladybugs, trees, seasonal changes, birds, monarchs, biodiversity, rain, clouds, and dragonflies. Volunteers collect a lot of the data for these projects, and help us move the 8 Prairie Ridge eMammal camera traps once a month. Their efforts not only allow us to learn more about Prairie Ridge, Raleigh, and North Carolina as a whole, but also to reliably participate in many more projects than we could without their help.

Stream Surveyors VolunteersData Entry. We regularly collect data for nearly 40 citizen science projects between programs at the main Museum campus downtown and at Prairie Ridge. That’s a lot of data! Unfortunately, we rarely have enough time in our programs to get all of our data entered, so we end up with a big backlog of information that we need to do something with. Some of our citizen science volunteers generously give their time to enter data. It might not be as glamorous as some of the other volunteer positions, but it’s incredibly valuable work.

This past year, we were also lucky to have an AmeriCorps volunteer working with our citizen science program. If you had an opportunity to attend a program led by Mandy Cuskelly, you were treated to a great outdoor experience! Mandy worked full-time as a citizen science educator and was a great asset to the program. She built great new resources and programs that will help us well into the future. Thanks, Mandy, for all of your hard work! We’ll miss having you on board in 2015!

Our citizen science volunteers have contributed nearly 3000 hours of time so far this year, about the equivalent of 1.5 full time staff people. Clearly, our volunteers give a lot to our citizen science program! Because Thanksgiving weekend just passed, I think now is as good a time as any to say that we are incredibly grateful to our wonderful volunteers. Our volunteers make a huge difference to our programs and what we can offer to our citizen scientists. We appreciate each and every one of them, from the person who can only work 2 hours a month to the superstars who work 40 hours or more each month. All of our volunteers make a difference in our quest to learn more about the natural world and the universe beyond and we are thrilled to have them all on board!

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