Sarah Burke moved from Peterborough, Ontario, to "sweet home Alabama" in 1999. She attended Oxford High School and graduated from Jacksonville State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, concentrating in marine biology. Her background in marine biology informed her coordination of the new "Live Salty: From Shore to Ocean Floor" exhibit at the Anniston Museum of Natural History, where she is the education director.
What interested you in biology?
My interest has always been there. I grew up watching Discovery Channel and going to aquariums and things like that. Growing up, I was all over anything with sharks, then I moved to sea turtles and other animals. I have always been an animal lover. My struggle was how I could connect my love of animals with interacting with people; the museum is the perfect place for it!
Have you always been interested in museums?
Yes, I love anything that is educational in a fun way: museums, zoos, aquariums, anything like that.
When did you start working with the Anniston Museum of Natural History?
I started interning with the museum while I was in college, working in collections. I was actually cataloging the marine collection in this exhibit. After I graduated, I went to Dauphin Island and did classes there, went to the marine lab and worked with sea turtles. I was able to get my foot in the door at the museum by working as an animal caretaker in January of 2015. In September of 2015, I moved into environmental education, which I completely adore now. I became education director in December of 2015. Growing up, I did not see myself becoming a teacher, but this is something I definitely enjoy. I like introducing children to nature.
What do you do as education director?
I do a little bit of everything. I worked with collections and the exhibit team to create the museum’s new "Live Salty: From Shore to Ocean Floor" exhibit. I schedule tours; we do a lot of guided and unguided tours for schools, day camps, churches, any organization or big family that calls and schedules ahead of time.
Animal programming is the fun stuff. We look at what we have and what people are interested in and create a program around that. I am presenting the museum’s animal shows at Terrific Kid Tuesday in the Quintard Mall food court. (There is one today at noon.)
We have third grade outreach: We go out into the third grade classrooms in Calhoun County and focus on their curriculum.
Some days, I get here and start cleaning cages; other days I am doing emails and planning events, like our upcoming Museum Day in August.
Describe your part in creating the "Live Salty" exhibit.
Our curator, Dan Spaulding, has been wanting to do a marine exhibit here for years. With my background, he said I was the right person to help get this going. Our registrar, Susan Doss, and I went through our collections for several months, hand-picking the shells and corals and whale vertebra to display for the public. We went through thousands of shells; we picked what we thought were the most beautiful or weird or really rare. There is a lot more involved in creating an exhibit than you would think — more even than I thought (laughter). It is a long process, but it has been a really good experience and a lot of fun.
What can the community expect in the "Live Salty" exhibit?
When they come in, they will feel like they are submerged in the ocean and traveling the world through it. First, they will start in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, then the Mediterranean, Indo-Pacific, back over to the East Pacific, West Atlantic, and ending in the Gulf with conservation. They will be reminded why our oceans and the animals and plants inside them are so vital and what we can do to help them.
What is Museum Day?
It is a free event for the public on Aug. 27. We will have the exhibit halls open, live animal programs on rotation, animal masks for children to make and handprint artwork for younger children to do. This Museum Day, we will be celebrating the Museum’s 86th birthday; it is going to be a lot of fun.
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.