The Musuem of Saving Grace (4)

Aza Burns-Williams
4 min readMay 8, 2022


This post was originally written and published on September 25, 2019. It details events, experiences, and reflections of the first quarter of 2018 during my time as a volunteer information associate with the Field Musuem of Natural History.

I would like to start this post off by saying that my mother has been the most influential person in my work life. I have a tendency to suffer from anxiety, procrastination, and a deep-seated fear of rejection that makes me want to run away from new opportunities instead of embracing them. I remember way back when I first returned home from college, Lakeshore PBS wouldn’t respond to my emails about their open internships. My mother was the one who convinced me to make the hour-long drive to the station to ask for an internship in person.

In a similar vein, when I received an email from the Field Museum to interview for the volunteer position, my mother was the one who broke through my multi-month, depression-influenced state of mind and kept me from squandering my opportunity.

Thanks, Mom, for always being there for me.

Even though the Field Museum position was everything I ever wanted 7 months ago, in reality my volunteer position at the Field Museum wasn’t particularly glamorous. I was an information desk receptionist on the bottom floor of the museum during one of the least busy days of the week. My position consisted mostly of giving visitors directions, offering suggestions, and assisting them with other kinds of issues like locating the parents of lost children (and sometimes lost grandparents) and refunding money from broken pop machines.

Unexpectedly, I was also the youngest volunteer as the others were older individuals looking to pass time in their retirement. Fortunately, these old-timers had some of the best stories such as when one volunteer took a safari to Africa and another regaled memories of being a schoolteacher in the 70’s and 80’s. Most of my days were spent talking to Mary, the coolest 80-something year old woman of all time, who manned the information desk with me. She would detail stories of growing up in a small town on the border of Illinois and Missouri, all the way up to the birth of her grandchildren.

Even though I only volunteered at the museum once a week, just having something to do and somewhere to go was absolutely refreshing to me. When I would arrive at the museum and open the doors leading into the main hall, it was like stepping into a wellspring of energy. I loved walking through the Hall of Ancient China that contained old Buddhist artifacts and the robes of past emperors. I would marvel at massive totem poles in the Hall of the Pacific Northwest and become giddy like a child when viewing old dinosaur fossils (Especially the fossils of Sue, the T-Rex!). Most importantly however, I loved that the Field Museum was a place where families and individuals could learn about science and the deep history of this planet. The nature of the museum reinvigorated my desire for learning and it reminded me why I wanted to return to graduate school in the first place.

Reanimated by my time volunteering at the Field Museum, I started sending out entry-level job applications to local colleges and museums. In all honesty however, I was sending them everywhere with a willingness to perform any kind of work. And I mean ANY kind of work.

Little did I know however, that in my shotgun method of applying for jobs, my resume would float across the desk of a young Anthropology graduate from Michigan who was also a fan of the Field Museum — and lead to my next job.

A tree planter.



Aza Burns-Williams

A person trying their best to be a Time Being for the time being.