Sophomore docents for love of science, stewardship

Jack Connolly

By: PASCALE MONTGOMERY

The Pacific Grove Natural History Museum has been serving and educating patrons of the county and beyond for more than 130 years thanks to the help of dedicated volunteers like Carmel High School sophomore Jack Connolly.

Connolly was introduced to the museum’s volunteering opportunities during a hands-on research field trip hosted by Carmel biology teacher Kevin Buran. The museum’s citizen science program, known as the Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students, or LiMPETS, was leading the excursion at Carmel Beach.

After talking to one of the volunteers, the young science enthusiast inquired about how he could get involved in the museum’s volunteer program and started volunteering in July.

“It’s a really great experience” the aspiring scientist says. “I think I know a lot more about local natural history because of this opportunity.”

According to Mary Martha Waltz, the museum’s former volunteer coordinator, Connolly started out volunteering with the summer camps, and after he turned 16 was given the freedom to decide what he was going to specialize in.

“Jack has drawn his own path,” Waltz says. “He has been totally forthcoming about doing the Science Saturday events and wanting to docent for the Monarch Sanctuary.”

Learning is a lifelong process, and Waltz encourages the future monarch docent and other volunteers to always do additional research to expand their individual knowledge.

“I’ve met a lot of interesting people,” Connolly says. “They are all a lot older than me, but it is really interesting to learn from them.”

There really isn’t a difference between older and younger volunteers according to Waltz, for they all share the same love for stewardship of the environment.

Connolly is now training to become a docent for the Monarch Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, and he currently volunteers at the museum’s Science Saturdays, a monthly event filled with crafts, scavenger hunts and booths to educate both students and their parents.

As a docent at the museum on weekends, Connolly spends the mornings and afternoons greeting and answering the questions of visitors. From resetting puzzles and researching for a visitor’s question to simply enjoying the exhibits, the young docent has his hands full.

“There are a lot of times where a visitor will ask a really specific question, so I have to go to the front desk and ask,” Connolly says.

The museum also trains docents to educate visitors at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary about the monarch butterflies that temporarily reside in the sanctuary from late October to late February.

As a monarch docent, Connolly hopes to volunteer every weekend once he finishes his training.  Considering that about 32,000 people visited the sanctuary last year, and these numbers are only recorded when docents are present during the day in P.G. monarch season, his job is indeed important.

Monarch populations have significantly dropped since they first began counting them in the 1980s, Waltz explains. Thanks to volunteers like Connolly, these candidates for the endangered species list may have a better chance of survival due to increased public awareness.

“Becoming a monarch docent is something that I have always been interested in doing,” the future scientist says.

Bring the kids, and you might catch Connolly at a Science Saturday Booth, where he will be happy to answer your questions. If you don’t find him there, you might be able to find him this fall on the weekends as he strolls the peaceful eucalyptus grove at the sanctuary.