Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interview with Josh Estes, Dinosphere Manager

I've mentioned Josh Estes, whose official title at the Children's Museum is Dinosphere and Treasures of the Earth Manager and Interpreter, quite a bit throughout this series. He sets the tone for his team of interpreters, making sure that visitors leave with a new appreciation for dinosaurs. So I figured it was only fitting to give him the chance to talk about why he loves what he does.

Josh Estes
Josh with a foam cast of Stan's neck.

His favorite mount is their Gorgosaurus, and as he pointed out various pathologies on the skeleton, from evidence of a brain tumor to broken shoulder, and tail bones to the sizable chunk bitten out of its femur, it was clear that Josh had a true respect for the small tyrannosaur. "This animal was cared for," he told me, as the various injuries had healed, and it's hard to imagine an animal living to the age it did without getting a bit of help from some sort of social group.

Can you talk about your background? Where did you grow up? Were you a "sciencey" kid?

I was raised in a small town in Southern Indiana called Bedford. Go Stars! Looking back now, it was a great place to grow up. A lot of hills for sledding and cows for tipping and creeks for fishin’.

I guess I was a “sciencey” kid. My grandfather and uncle were both science teachers and I was raised in a home that valued science education. I remember as a child visiting my grandparents and they’d always have National Geographic magazines all over the place. I’d look at the pictures and pretend to read the articles.

Did you visit museums? What made an impression?

I visited a lot of museums and cultural institutions growing up. I loved them – still do. These visits prompted me to apply to work at The Children’s Museum. Growing up, museums were the destination. We’d spend weekends in Chicago at The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and Science and Industry Museum. Those were some great weekends.

My family would visit Walt Disney World in Florida almost every summer. How awesome is that! I remember dreaming of Epcot pretty much year-round. It might sound strange, but Epcot had a huge impression on me with the blending of science and entertainment. My favorite attraction growing up was the Energy “ride”. It took you through the age of the dinosaurs with animatronic dinos up close and that unmistakable “dino-era smell”. Man, that was awesome!

What was the path you took to your current position with the Children's Museum?

I began my employ at The Children’s Museum as a “Master Interpreter” in 2003. A Master Interpreter knows all of the programs in the building and can be plugged into any gallery if someone is on vacation or ill. Needless to say, I had to learn a lot! Tipis and Waterclocks and Planetarium shows and DINOSAURS!!! Dinosphere hadn’t opened yet, but there was great emphasis on getting everyone ready. I’m glad they did! The museum brought Phil Currie, Dr. Bob Bakker, Pete and Neal Larson, Paul Sereno and many other Paleo-type people just to educate us on Cretaceous dinosaurs. I feel like I have had the best education on interpreting dinosaurs.

I became the Dinosphere Interpretation Supervisor in February of 2005 and became the Dinosphere Manager in October 2007. Earlier this year, I accepted the role of Dinosphere and Treasures of the Earth Manager. “Treasures” will be an exciting new exhibit opening in the summer of 2011. I get to learn about Archaeology now!

Josh with a fresh Edmontosaurus rib.

Is there a part of your job do you think would be surprising to the public?

I think what is most surprising when people hear about my job is that it is actually a job and I get paid to do this. I know I’m living the dream of a lot of kids that visit the museum (and some adults too). I try not to take it for granted.

It’s not all glamorous work. I do guard bodily spills on occasion.

What aspect of the Dinosphere are you proudest of?

I’m most proud of the team of people that we’ve put together that work in Dinosphere. It takes a very special person to be enthusiastic every day. To seek out interactions. To answer the same questions over and over but to act like you’ve heard them for the first time. These are special people down here. They all are amazing, friendly and visitor-focused people.

What has been the coolest experience this position has given you?

I’ve been to South Dakota digging dinosaurs. I went on a Pirate Ship dive in the Florida Keys. I’ve spent time with Dr. Bob (Bakker) and am still alive (I love that guy). I’ve had dinner with Mr. McFeely (David Newell from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood). I went to Disney World with a group of staff to observe their operation. But the coolest would have to be when I met my wife at the Mastodon(t).


I'd like to thank Josh again for taking the time to meet with me and talk about his work. And for staying in touch with me as I've written these posts to ensure that I get things straight.

The Children's Museum also has a Youtube Channel, so if you want to see Josh in action, you have the opportunity. Here he is with fellow interpreter Mookie, talking about the thunderstorm simulation in the Dinosphere.

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