Leading and Learning


A small child ran her fingers along mock whale teeth as her mother listened to Delaney Smith, a docent at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History, speak about the purposes of these different types of teeth.

The young child and her mother came to the Museum of Natural History on Sunday, Feb. 7, to participate in the weekend demo cart that docents put on every Saturday and Sunday. Each month they host a new, short 20 minute hands-on demo cart for anybody to come and watch, although it is aimed towards young children and their parents. February’s demo is called ‘Out of the Water and Back Again’, and it is a quick overview of how whales evolved from land creatures to what we know and see today. Through this program children get to learn with hands-on activities including making their own ‘whale teeth’.

These Saturday and Sunday sessions are not all the docents of the Natural History Museum do. They set up a host table in the entrance of the museum and give tours to school, birthday and senior citizen groups throughout the weekdays. Giving tours and learning the ways of the museum doesn’t require a major in the field of natural history, but in order to give the tours, they must go through a two week training course and spend additional time to learn specifics about each tour they are going to lead.

Smith, who is an Economics Major at the University of Michigan, applied to be a docent after hearing about the program from a friend. She decided to apply, not because natural science is her passion, but mainly because she loves working with kids, and there aren’t many chances for her to do that in college.

Smith being an Economics Major might seem a little odd, but she believes it is one of the great things about her job. “It’s one of the cool things about it here,” Smith said. “You have people that are Museum Studies Majors who going in want to work at a museum and they want to do all this. And you have people that are going into education and school of ed and that kind of stuff. But then there are people just like me who just like working with kids.”

This job has also taught Smith to be adaptable. “You learn to go with the flow,” Smith said. She’s learned how to present and talk to people of all different ages, from kindergarten students to retired elderly about all different subjects within natural history.

The natural history museum offers a lot for both the community and students at the university through their docent program, tours and open hours, where the museum’s exhibits are always ready to be learned from.