PacSci Perspectives

Volunteer Spotlight: Dennis Harris

by | Nov 7, 2016

Volunteers are an essential part of wonderful guest experiences at Pacific Science Center. Meet Dennis Harris, a retired Air Force Captain whose passion for science and travel is fueled by his hours spent at Pacific Science Center.

How did you come to volunteer at Pacific Science Center?
I retired in 2011 on my 60th birthday; I was a contracting officer with the Navy at the shipyard, and I was also in the Air Force for 28 years. Afterwards, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I started volunteering to keep busy. It left me time to learning languages, and to make sure my wife and I have plenty of time together to time to travel.

Tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes at Pacific Science Center:
Well, I’ve been volunteering since the opening of the King Tut exhibit in spring 2012. This is one of many places I volunteer, but Pacific Science Center peeks my interests the most because of the education it provides young guests. It does my heart good when they express such interest in the butterfly house, the mechanical dinosaurs and the planetarium. I liked to be a part of the guests’ legacy; these experiences could inspire future college degrees and studies in science, math and history. Events like Paws-On-Science are some of my favorite because guests get so excited, and they provide education for kids as well as adults (guests and volunteers alike).

Describe your favorite moment, or moment that’s stood out, you’ve experienced as a volunteer:
I’ve been dabbling in the romance languages for a while now. I’ve made it through first-level Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian. We have many guests that don’t understand English, and it’s really rewarding to give them the information they need in a different language and to make foreign guests feel at home. It’s amazing to interact with guests in this way. I plan to learn Greek next, because I love the history and antiquities. That’ll be my final language, though.

What do you like most about volunteering at Pacific Science Center?
It’s not about me; it’s about making sure guests have a very fulfilling experience at Pacific Science Center, where they learn something. I love being part of a process where we present to them a good environment to have a wonderful experience. I work proactively, so that I don’t have to go back and “fix” or learn from mistakes. I like to do it right the first time.

Share an interesting fact from your past:
I am not from Seattle. I was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Corpus Christie, Texas. In Corpus Christie, I was able to be a part of nature. My parents had a deep sea fishing boat, and would take me out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. We caught lots of saltwater fish like lingcod, drum and redfish. We would also camp at Padre Island, the National Seashore (it wasn’t a National Seashore when I was growing up, so we were free to roam). We were able to explore the sand dunes, seagulls and waves lapping against the white-sand beaches. It really is beautiful out there.

Share a dream about your future:
My number one goal is to stay fit and health as I get older so I can continue to travel. My wife and I practice qigong and yoga, and take lots of nutrition classes. We want to be able to use the languages we’ve learned, to meet new people and explore new cultures; I’m particularly interested in visiting the 4,000 B.C.E. Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

I also look out for new volunteer opportunities, to be part of Seattle visitors’ experiences. I’m really interested in the Terra Cotta Warriors, coming here in the spring. There’s some history that not a lot of people know about. Did you know there were 8,000 warriors originally, but only 3,000 have been uncovered to date? They were metallurgical alloys in made in 32 B.C.E, and so ahead of their time. To see something like that in person is phenomenal.

What’s your favorite science fiction movie or book?
I used to watch the first-generation Star Trek series as a kid; it was really cool to learn about outer-space. I also really loved mysteries; my favorites were the Hardy Boys, and I used to search for Ellery Queen books in gas stations. Naturally, I’m very excited for The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes.

Tell us how you use science in your everyday life:
In trying to stay healthy, I keep careful track of my nutrition. In some of my classes, my wife and I are learning about the effect of excessive carbohydrates and the benefit of gluten-free products, and how food affects different bodies in different ways. I research and use lots of spices and herbs in my cooking. It’s probably my favorite science.