Volunteer Program

links to Visitor Services Volunteer Options links to Prep Lab Volunteer Options links to Field Work Volunteer Options

At ETSU and General Shale Natural History Museum, volunteers are our Most Valuable People! By joining our team, you become part of a unique group of dedicated individuals who can be found in nearly every area of the Museum. Whether greeting visitors, guiding groups, or working alongside Museum curators, there are many important ways in which volunteers contribute. Click on any image to learn more about working in our various departments and programs.

Who Can Volunteer? Volunteer opportunities are available for people with a wide variety of experience or no experience at all. Currently, volunteers must be 18 or older; students age 15-18 may apply to our Junior Volunteer program.

Click here for an application!

Please note: New volunteers are only accepted prior to orientation dates scheduled in the Spring and Fall. The next orientation is Saturday, September 26th.

Museum Services

Museum services volunteers engage with the public in a variety of ways. We are currently accepting applications for welcome desk, tour guide, education department, outreach, and office support volunteers:

Welcome Desk: Get to know our visitors the moment they walk through the door by joining our friendly welcome desk team! At our welcome desk you will greet visitors, sell tickets, and answer the phone. No experience is required and training is provided.

Tour Guide: Want to share the excitement our visitors experience as they learn more about our exhibits and the work going on at the Gray Fossil Site? Become a tour guide! No experience? No worries! Our tour guide training program will teach you all about the history of the site and regular updates will keep you abreast of the latest discoveries.

Education Guide: The museum is a favorite destination for school field trips. Special training is available for tour guides interested in working with student groups. Being an education guide is one of the most rewarding volunteer jobs at the museum!

Outreach: Want to get into the many festivals and events in our region? Help us spread the word! We're always looking for people willing to staff our booth at Blue Plum, First Friday, Fun Fest, the Appalachian Fair, and many other fun activities in the Tri-Cities. Education outreach volunteers can also take our show on the road to places like local schools, senior centers and public libraries. Training is provided and outreach materials are supplied.

Office Support: Whether making copies, stuffing envelopes, or entering data, our office support volunteers are crucial to getting things done around the museum. No experience or special skills are required and there is always something to do!

To become a volunteer, download a volunteer application online or pick one up at the museum. For more information please contact April Season Nye, or at 423-439-3645.

Preparation Lab

We are currently accepting applications for volunteers in the Prep Lab!

Volunteers in the lab pick through fossil sediment to find microfossils, clean fossils, and reassemble them. These tasks take patience and a keen eye.  New volunteers are trained thoroughly in basic techniques before advancing to more complex tasks.  Volunteer opportunities in the lab are offered Tuesday through Saturday.

Some FAQs:

Do you need any special skills or lab experience to volunteer?

You don't need to have any prior experience, just a willingness to learn. Extensive training is provided.

Can I volunteer to dig out on the fossil site?

Absolutely! But you'll need to hone your skills by working in the lab first.

Can I volunteer in the lab for just one day or just a few days?

No. While many of our laboratory volunteers only come in one or two days a week, a minimum commitment of one-hundred (100) hours is required to volunteer in the lab. Laboratory training is extensive and it takes time to learn the skills you'll need to help us find microfossils and properly care for fossils brought in from the field. We need laboratory volunteers who are willing to invest time in gaining and practicing these skills.

Where do you train new lab volunteers?

New volunteers are trained on-site in the Preparation Laboratory. If you are also learning how to wet screen, this training will take place in the back of the fossil site which is just a short walk from the museum.

Who can volunteer in the lab?

Lab volunteers must be age 15 or older. Our volunteers range from high school students to retired engineers and professors and from artists to medical doctors.  Without this dedicated group we would not be able to retain our high level of productivity. You will need to fill out a volunteer application, provide references, and go through a training session to become a volunteer.

Will I work by myself on a project?

Sometimes you will work on your own project, but on other occasions you may work with a group of volunteers on a complex project. You'll be able to learn from the other volunteers by working with them as well.

What days and times can I volunteer in the lab?

You can volunteer in the lab Tuesday-Saturday between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The lab may occasionally be closed in the event that preparation lab staff are needed elsewhere in the museum or are out of town. Lab volunteers will be notified any time the lab must be closed during normal volunteer hours.

Who works in the lab?

Brian Compton, Shawn Haugrud, and Jeff Supplee are the preparators who work in the lab. Brian and Shawn are full-time preparators and Jeff works with the field crew out in the field during excavation season.

I want to reassemble a rhino skull. When can I start?

Not right away! Before you work on research sensitive or rare fossils, you will be asked to learn how to pick through microfossils, clean fossils, and reassemble small projects. Unless you have previous, extensive experience with fossil preparation techniques in a laboratory setting, you won't be able to jump right into a big project.

Can I volunteer in the lab and also volunteer to give tours or help out in the rest of the museum?

Of course you can! Many of our volunteers choose to do both. They find that having behind-the-scenes experiences enhances the tours they give to the general public. Volunteers in the prep lab are some of the first to hear about new discoveries from the paleontologists!

Please contact Assistant Preparator Shawn Haugrud for more information about volunteering in the lab: , or fill out a volunteer application.


Field Work and Excavations

The Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and ETSU & General Shale Brick Natural History Museum work together to provide a very active volunteer program that focuses on lab work, excavations, and outreach. Volunteers provide the primary labor force for much of our fieldwork, laboratory processing, and fossil preparation.  Volunteers are often the first to see something new and exciting, such as the first known skull of a new type of badger or a totally new and undescribed species.

Volunteers interested in assisting with fossil excavations and field-work are first trained in our preparation laboratory. If you would like to become a field volunteer, please begin by applying to volunteer in the lab.


Special Projects
Volunteer, Meghan Roach Painting a mural for the Triceratops Exhibit

Outreach Opportunities

Junior Volunteering
Junior Volunteer, Alice Hembree, preparing a fossil in the lab.

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