Student works toward his future by digging into the past

Student works toward his future by digging into the past

Buried deep in the hard soil are the carbonized bones of dinosaurs that Jorge Barrera has dreamt of seeing since he was 4 years old. Though it is impossible to discern when his fascination began, Barrera, 23, has formed his life’s work around paleontology.

“I don’t know why I love dinosaurs so much. I just do,” Barrera said. “They’re cool as heck. It’s kind of every boys dream.”

Similar to movie buffs or die-hard music lovers, Barrera immersed himself in the prehistoric world the colossal reptiles inhabited.

Cameron Gil, 22, has been close friends with Barrera for six years. During this time Gil watched Barrera’s love change from curiosity to a near consuming passion.

“Dinosaurs are one of his main passions. Ask Jorge any question about dinosaurs and he’ll know. It’s like asking a sports fan about sports,” Gil said. “He’s always been known as the dinosaur guy.”

When it came time to find an extracurricular activity that was flexible with his class schedule, the Natural History Museum was an alluring option Barrera could not pass up on.

Barrera began volunteering for the Natural History Museum in the spring of 2011 during his first semester. His first job at the museum was as a greeter. Barrera’s duties were to welcome new visitors and answer any questions they had about the museum.

“Besides the occasional person who would ask if things in the museum were real, no one really asked anything too surprising.” Barrera said.

Months later, Barrera was moved to the Dino Lab where he would work as a fossil curator. Museum goer’s that visit the lab have the opportunity to watch volunteer’s as they restore cracked fossilized bones and sculpt missing parts of dinosaur skeletons.

Though the position demanded much of Barrera, his main responsibility was preparing specimens that were still embedded in rock and running them up to the attic for storage.

Between transporting fossils around the museum and prepping bones for the lab, Barrera became good friends with senior volunteer, Tony Turner.

“Jorge was always enthusiastic about working in the lab and he shared that enthusiasm and passion with many of his colleagues and museum visitors,” Turner said.

As a volunteer, Barrera had the opportunity to see how the museum operated on all occasions. He was also given the chance to work on event nights when exhibits were filled to maximum capacity.

One of Barrera’s favorite experiences was when he volunteered the night of the museum’s annual Reptile and Amphibian Appreciation Day in October. Visitors can tour the collections, view live animal displays, browse reptile and amphibian art exhibits, and meet professional herpetologists.

The countless days Barrera spent with his fellow volunteers played a major role in shaping his academic goals. It inspired him to work harder as a student while teaching him things that can’t be learned in a classroom.

“Volunteering at the museum helped a lot with the geology classes I’m taking right now. It motivated me to do better at Pierce so I can have a career in Paleontology.” Barrera said.

After volunteering for several years in the Dino Lab, Barrera chose to resign from his position.

“I didn’t get a job there. They said that it wasn’t a block and could lead up to a job and I wasn’t angry about that,” Barrera said. “Now when I apply for a job at a museum once I have my degree, I can say that I have experience working with the public and with specimens.”

Although he is no longer a volunteer with the museum, Barrera will help out with events from time to time. He recently volunteered for the museum’s 100th anniversary.

Turner, who has worked for the Natural History Museum for over four years, knows the benefits that come with the experience of being a volunteer with the establishment.

“Volunteering here at this museum opens all sorts of avenues and it’s a very fulfilling and rewarding job to get to work around something you are passionate about,” Turner said.

Barrera says one of his favorite things about working in paleontology is being able to work up close with the fossilized giants without being eaten.

From the moment he first fell in love with the prehistoric world, Barrera could not see himself pursuing a career outside of paleontology.

“I never wanted to end up with a boring job, like a job as an accountant,” Barrera said. “I always wanted to work with dinosaurs.”

Barrera plans to apply for an internship at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this coming summer.