MDWFP’s Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
STAFF SPOTLIGHT: ANN TAYLOR
From youth volunteer to volunteer coordinator, Ann Taylor is an integral part of the museum team – whether she’s costumed as Astrophobia, handling hissing cockroaches, or leading our awesome volunteers!
HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED FOR THE MUSEUM?
Nine years-this time around! I also worked part-time for the museum when I was in high school and college, assisting with summer education programs and camp.
WHAT’S YOUR WORKDAY LIKE?
My day begins with a quick check-in with our volunteers – people who have big hearts and lots of enthusiasm, skill, and knowledge. We discuss what’s going on for them at their various posts for the day.
Inevitably, we end up talking about a cool bird or unusual plant that someone saw or a neat article someone is recommending.
We love learning together and that’s a pretty nice way to start the day!
I take care of some of the education animals – the box turtles, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, crickets, and mealworms.
Learning to love those cockroaches took some practice, but now I actually do! They are really cool little creatures.
I recruit and train new volunteers and communicate with current ones about upcoming needs.
Plus, I try to stay aware of specific staff needs that volunteers can support.
So, one way or another I spend a lot of time on communication.
I need to stay connected to all the divisions of the museum such as education, research, and collections so I get a unique perspective on what a dynamic place this is and how all the parts work together for conservation.
As a former classroom teacher, I do really enjoy teaching programs occasionally, too, and helping with outreach.
ANY FUNNY WORK STORIES?
It makes me laugh that my desk holds an ammonite paperweight, various puppets, a T-rex claw, sunscreen, bug spray, storybooks, and field guides alongside the typical office supplies.
Things that would be bizarre elsewhere are perfectly normal here.
Once, I came in to my office and there was a cage of baby raccoons on the table. They were adorable. I got my coffee, sat down to work in good company, and eventually a rehabber came to pick them up.
Occasionally, I get a text saying something like, “There’s a baby leopard walking around in the theater if you want to come see it”, thanks to our special events like NatureFEST.
Our volunteers are a lot of fun and very knowledgeable, so interesting conversations happen all the time.
For example, an ongoing topic is how to improve techniques for costumed SCUBA dives by our volunteer divers.
Most entertainer/educators don’t have to account for buoyancy! Santa beards and birthday hats present a challenge!
I also get to assist with our special events like Park After Dark and dress up in creative costumes such as Astraphobia (the fear of thunder and lightening). And, that’s pretty fun!
WOULD YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
My mom wouldn’t let me have a pet snake when I was growing up. Little did she know how much this one decision would impact my career path!
When I was 16, I inquired about volunteering at the museum, which at that time was a much smaller place located on Jefferson Street near the MS Fairgrounds.
I had grown up going there – I’m from Jackson and Clinton – and always enjoyed it.
Former museum director Libby Hartfield and education coordinator Martha Cooper let this teenager have a chance to be helpful, and I just absorbed everything anyone would teach me.
Eventually, I did learn to handle and care for the education animals, including snakes.
I was fascinated with the live animals, but in general I truly loved watching others discover a connection with the natural world. I still do!
It never occurred to me I might want to pursue a career in teaching until midway through college, but the seeds were planted then.
I’ve always loved reading and writing.
I joke about the oddity of being an English major in a science museum, but it works because I’m able to help information flow out to our volunteers – and through them, to our guests.
One of my favorite things to do is read, often about natural history.
Shortly after starting this job I developed a passion for learning about and gardening with native plants.
When my son was little, he loved to play in the dirt and “help” me, and from there my garden and gardening aspirations have continued to grow!
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS CAREER?
I guess it was just meant to be! I never imagined I would be back in Mississippi working at the museum again, but here I am and glad to be here.
I pursued an English degree in college at Millsaps, and had a strong interest in journalism.
However, I was interested in education too, particularly literacy, so I took education courses to meet my college science requirements and was hooked.
The early models I had from the museum for experiential learning always stayed with me.
After college, I taught primarily middle-school level language arts in TN, GA, and NC.
Even in teaching language arts classes I implemented as much direct hands-on learning as I could because I had already seen its effectiveness.
I also lived in Boise, Idaho for two years and worked as the education coordinator for the interpretive center there, operated by international raptor conservation group, The Peregrine Fund.
During that time, I had the privilege of learning to handle birds of prey and share the importance of their role in ecosystems.
While I was pregnant with my son I was caring for and regularly handling peregrine falcons – that was sort of unusual!
Once I was back in MS and my son was in preschool, I began volunteering for the museum again. It definitely was a homecoming experience.
When the opportunity to apply for a job here opened up, I applied and was thrilled to become the volunteer coordinator.
I love being able to tell our teen volunteers that I was a teen volunteer, too!
HOW DOES YOUR JOB CONTRIBUTE TO CONSERVATION?
Our mission statement says we are here to “promote understanding and appreciation of Mississippi’s biological diversity … and to inspire the people of our state to respect the environment and preserve natural Mississippi.”
I recruit, assign, and train volunteers who give their time and skills to support every aspect of the Museum’s mission of conservation.
I’m very proud to be involved with that mission in this way.
ANY ADVICE FOR A STUDENT INTERESTED IN A BIOLOGY OR MUSEUM CAREER?
Volunteer! Intern! You will gain tremendously valuable insight into career possibilities and a deeper understanding of what a career actually involves day-to-day.
Click here to learn more about volunteering at the museum.