Night at the Museum

West High School junior gives hours of volunteer time

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March 28, 2014 | 9:00 pm

When Ryan Bozer started volunteering at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, he figured he’d be there once a month.

A year later, he was told he’d put in 250 volunteer hours.

“I had no idea the hours had gotten that high,” Ryan, 16, says.

The West High School junior knew he was at the museum more than he expected. He’s there twice a month during the school year and once a week during summer vacations.

“It got to the point where I felt I needed to do this, I needed to be there,” Ryan says. “They’ve sort of become my second family.”

But 250 hours?

Ryan was still digesting that information when museum staffers made a second announcement. They had nominated him for a 2013 Governor’s Volunteer Award for individual service.

“We’ve been having more and more high school students volunteer at the museum, but Ryan has really just gone above and beyond,” says Sarah Horgen, the museum’s education coordinator.

Last summer, Ryan assisted with the museum’s mammoth excavation, making several trips to the farm in Oskaloosa to help with the dig.

“We’d leave at 4 a.m. and he’d always be there with a great attitude and would work hard in the field,” Horgen says. “We were able to excavate three mammoths because of the volunteers who gave their time to the project.”

For Ryan, though, digging in the field was just the start. He also assisted with the cleaning of the bones back at the museum, a task he undertook in addition to his other museum duties. These include helping with the monthly children’s program, Night at the Museum, and working in the museum gift shop.

Still, Ryan never expected the nomination to go beyond the initial announcement.

“I figured I’m just a volunteer, there are people out there building houses for people who don’t have a place to live,” he says.

Two months later, Ryan and his parents — Ken and Teresa Bozer of North Liberty — learned he received an Individual Volunteer Award for outstanding commitment and service. He received his award during a recognition ceremony in June.

“Everybody else there was at least four years older than me, if not double my age,” Ryan says. “I remember sitting there, listening to what other people had done, and thinking ‘Why am I here?’”

He’s the only one thinking that.

“I often tell people we have a very large museum, but a very small staff and limited funding,” Horgen says. “We would not be able to do the things we do without our volunteers.”

Ryan, who hopes to study paleontology in college, says volunteering gives him a glimpse of what he might do in the future. He also has a better understanding of how others learn, especially after working with young children.

Ryan’s mother, Teresa, says volunteering has given Ryan a list of job skills and experiences he wouldn’t have otherwise.

“I’m just in awe of what he’s accomplished,” she adds.

Ryan, who is nearing 400 hours of volunteer service, says anyone who wants to volunteer should, especially students.

“It doesn’t hurt to ask — ever,” he says. “Talk to your guidance counselor or an organization you like. Most of the time, people can find opportunities for you to help out.”

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