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Treasures in the City: Volunteering at the Smithsonian Institution

By Angela Trenkle, technical writer and DC EcoWomen member

Throughout the DMV metropolitan area, there are different organizations that give people the opportunity to learn about conservation, restoration, and the natural world that we are lucky to call home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution – an organization that is easily recognized when mentioned. What’s not always known, however, is the amount of work that goes on behind-the-scenes and that it’s easy for people to get involved.


My work included, but was not limited to, curation and collection management of invertebrates and insects (specimens only a handful of individuals could see), and live aquatic organisms that were used for research purposes to answer scientific questions. I also cared for animals, both aquatic and terrestrial, that the public could learn about and see.

When I’ve shared these experiences with people, one of the first questions they often ask is, “how did you become involved?”. They’re always surprised when I tell them it’s a lot easier than they’d think!

One of the overall goals of the Smithsonian Institution is education and they are always looking for volunteers to help in different capacities, whether its for a long-term commitment, a short-term commitment, or for a day.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum


The behind-the-scenes category gives volunteers the opportunity to help on projects out of the public eye, whether it’s assisting with data entry, cataloging museum specimens, or researching scientific literature.

The public engagement category gives volunteers the opportunity to inspire the museum’s visitors by allowing them to teach visitors about the natural world. Volunteers in the public engagement category get to work with live insects and butterflies in the butterfly pavilion and insect zoo. They can also showcase different objects in the Ocean Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, and Qriuis – a section of the museum that is dedicated solely to visitor enrichment and education.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center


The citizen science program allows volunteers to help SERC researchers on projects that are going on in the field or in the lab. These projects can include work with mud crabs, river herring, and environmental archaeology.

Volunteers in the environmental education category can teach school groups, which gives students the opportunity to connect with the natural world around them. Volunteers in the environmental education category get to lead canoe trips, run different environmental stations (seining, oysters, plankton, etc.) for field trips, and develop educations materials, among other activities.

Smithsonian National Zoo

At the Smithsonian National Zoo, there are opportunities to volunteer in several categories, such as education, zoo support, and special events.


The zoo support category gives volunteers the opportunity to work with staff behind-the-scenes and assist with animals. Zoo support volunteers can care for animals in different places around the zoo and assist with research projects that are taking place at the time of volunteering.

Finally, the special events category provides volunteers with short-term commitment opportunities. These volunteers can come as little, or as often, as they wish, whether its just for one event or for multiple. Some of the events that these volunteers can assist with include ZooFari and Zoolights.

These are just a few examples of ways that people can help with the Smithsonian. By taking the time to volunteer with this organization, people can learn, pass on information to others, grow and make a difference in the natural world. I hope you consider volunteering!





Photo Credits: Corey Cavalier CC BY 2.0, Quadell CC BY 3.0, and Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0.

#smithsonian #nationalzoo #EnvironmentalResearchCenter #Zoolights #blog #NaturalHistoryMuseum #zoo

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