A Night at the Museum promotes hands-on learning


CW / Hannah Saad

Libby Foster, Contributing Writer

The Alabama Museum of Natural History’s 11th annual Night at the Museum event took place in Smith and Lloyd Hall from 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8. Departments from across UA showcased their best and brightest to the Tuscaloosa community at the four seasons-themed event.

Children’s excited laughter echoed under a dinosaur skeleton. On Saturday night, Tuscaloosa students were energized by a night of hands-on learning as they skipped from booth to booth at the 11th annual Night at the Museum. 

Presented by the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the University of Alabama Graduate School and the University of Alabama Graduate Student Association, this year’s A Night at the Museum was four seasons-themed. Inspired by this concept, booths from various UA departments covered everything from seasonal fashion to carbon dating. 

Yakira Frank, a graduate student majoring in English, sat behind a table filled with freshly written poems at the creative writing department’s “Poet in a Box” exhibit. 

“All good writing is necessarily interdisciplinary,” Frank said. “If you’re engaging creatively with the sciences, that’s how we move forward as a species.”

Students who attended the event certainly did create throughout the night. Origami butterflies bloomed at the environmental science booth while the taps of a Newton’s cradle clicked through the physics and astronomy room. No matter what the subject, students sat at the edge of their seats as they learned about the four seasons from an interdisciplinary perspective. 

Departments put their best face forward by creatively showcasing their students’ and faculty’s knowledge with these engaging activities. Jake Champion, a sixth-grader at the Tuscaloosa Academy and a three-time attendee of the Night at the Museum, enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the museum. 

“At school, they just give you a lecture,” Champion said.  Here, they make it fun.”

Molly Putyrae walked through the Lloyd Hall exhibits with her 4- and 6-year-olds in tow, who were energetic despite the fact that the event went past their bedtime. Her kids are in kindergarten now, but she thinks the event is a way to get them excited and thinking about the future.

“Being able to get the kids on campus that do live around here is really great to pull them in,” Putyrae said.

The Alabama Museum of Natural History at Smith Hall is what some might consider a hidden gem of the University. A Night at the Museum showcased the off-the-beaten-track exhibit.  Students’ noses were glued to the museum’s glass display cases as they took a break in between booths. 

A few UA students milled through the crowd of primarily elementary and middle school attendees. Josh Vondracek, a freshman majoring in aerospace engineering, walked through the exhibits carrying boxes of leftover pizza from the event with friend Spencer Cook.

“We think it’s really cool that the University gets involved with the surrounding Tuscaloosa area,” Vondracek said. “Here it seems like they involve people of all ages.”

Exhibits cleared out as the night culminated with a prize giveaway. Students had been collecting stamps from each booth in their pocket-sized passports all night to receive a raffle ticket that could score them phones and iPads. 

Though only 14 students heard their names called out in the raffle, every student left the event grinning. Other prizes for the night included Bama merch, University-made coloring books and gift cards to local establishments. `

“Natural history and natural sciences are the basis of your outside world,” Sorlie said. “It’s really great to give students the chance to see a historian, to see a scientist, to see a writer.”