Sherra Stewart is the director of operations for the T-Rex Museum. A native of Phoenix, Stewart came to Tucson eight years ago to attend the UA. After graduating with a bachelor's in art history and women's studies, she wanted a job that was educational and fun. After one year of employment at T-Rex, Stewart describes her job as an eclectic mix of education, entertainment, promotion and even physical labor. She believes strongly in building community in Tucson and offers T-Rex as a place for families and children to learn and have fun at a reasonable price.
Tell me about your museum.
We've been open for 15 months now and are a child-center(ed) dinosaur museum. We focus on what we call edu-tainment, which is entertainment that's educational. We do things every weekend that are fun for kids, like reptile weekend, where we bring in live animals, or summer fun days. Every child through the door does a fossil dig where they sit in the paleo pit and can dig through for fossils; they will find five or six fossils to take home with them. It's included in their admission--kind of a fun, educational way to get a souvenir. ... We focus on dinosaurs and prehistoric life. The museum starts at 570 million years ago in the ancient ocean and goes all the way up though insects, amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs.
Are you a nonprofit?
Yes. We are a subsidiary of the International BioPark Foundation, whose main focus is education and conservancy. That's why we have animals here. We have two iguanas that were rescued. They were hurt, so they came to us to try to get rehabilitated.
What does your job entail?
It ranges all the way from starting a tour for a family to doing television interviews and press releases to building and expanding exhibits to painting the walls. This place was a big open warehouse. We built the walls; we painted; we designed everything. My job runs the gamut. ... I learn something new every day. It might be from a Web site or from a newspaper article or a 4-year-old.
What have you learned from kids?
Sense of adventure. Every kid who comes in here wants to be Dr. Alan Grant. (Sam Neill from Jurassic Park.) They know immediately what they want to be. These kids grasp on to these ideas and hold on with both fists. They love it for the sake of loving it. That's an adventure.
How does the T-Rex differ from a typical natural history museum?
How child friendly we are. If it's not under glass, it's hands-on. We have puzzles out under some of the information areas so that the parents can stand and read the information while the kid plays with the puzzle. We have different ages coming through for school groups. We try to really focus on what attention span each age group has, because what they will grasp is very wide, so we try to cater to that. ... We don't just have a big empty space with a huge dinosaur skeleton in it. Because everyone walks into that space and says, "Wow, that's huge; it's gorgeous." You read the information because you are an adult. A kid goes in there and says, "Wow, it's big; what's next?" And we give the "what's next."
Why was this museum named after the T. rex?
The executive director found a T. rex just south of the Black Hills. He found particles and jaw fragments, and ever since then, it's been his favorite. And we have all that original material in the museum. It's a small part of the museum, but it's a big part of everyone's favorite dinosaur.
What's in store for the T-Rex Museum?
We are hoping and crossing our fingers to move to Rio Nuevo. The Rio Nuevo project downtown is something we really can get behind and support. It would be a museum/shop complex that would really help Tucson. That's one of our prime focuses here, is to be a place for kids around Tucson to come in; have a good time; learn something. We don't charge a high admission price. ... We make it really modest, because we want people to come back as many times as they can. But once people come in, they come back, because they realize what we are doing here is for their kids, and it's fun.