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Woman with glasses and black hair leaning over a draw full of insects laid out and neatly organized on a white sheet of paper.

Brittney Hahn pinning insects in preparation for the opening of the Gilder Center.

Alumni Spotlight: Brittney Hahn ’22

When the New York City subway grinds to a halt at the 81st Street stop, Brittney Hahn can’t help but feel inspired by the mosaic mural she follows when she hops off the line every morning. Along the walk to her job at the American Museum of Natural History is a colorful depiction of dinosaurs, mammals, and – Brittney’s favorite – insects.

Earlier this year, Brittney has been pinning hundreds of insects for a new exhibit for the American Natural History Museum. Her work will be part of the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, which the museum’s website describes as “the first museum gallery in more than 50 years dedicated to the most diverse—and a critically important—group of animals on Earth.” The Insectarium will feature live and pinned insects from all six continents, as well as graphic and digital exhibits, and be housed in the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.

“Insects are often reviled in society or seen as scary,” Brittney explained. “Changing that attitude is so important given our current biodiversity crisis. Exhibits like this help people better understand insects.”

This role has fulfilled a high school dream for Brittney. One of her favorite social media segments to watch in her spare time were behind-the-scenes collections tours posted by famous museums. The videos highlighted the importance of the often-unseen role collections serves in research – which inspired her to learn more.  

“The American Natural History Museum was one of the museums that had the most engaging tours, which inspired me to go into the profession,” Brittney said. “The fact that I’m bringing a permanent exhibition to life is a true honor.”

When asked how ESF helped prepare her for this role, she reflects on her field and lab experiences. During her first year, she took Dr. Rebecca Rundell’s evolution class and learned about Dr. Rundell’s work with museums. Knowing she wanted to be in that field, Brittney asked her how she got into those spaces. Dr. Rundell offered Brittney a volunteer job at ESF’s Roosevelt Wild Life Collections, which house over 10,000 specimens – from birds and mammals to reptiles, amphibians, and fishes to elephant and giraffe skulls – used for research and teaching.

Volunteering quickly turned into a work-study position, where Brittney spent three years cataloging the egg collections. She also took an entomology class at ESF that furthered her interest in insects. Last year, she was interviewed by NPR’s Science Friday and participated in the show’s webinar – The Joy of Insect Pinning – to help people start their own collection.

By her junior year, Brittney was recommended by a graduate student for a summer internship at the American Natural History Museum in their research biology program for undergraduate students. Only 10 students are accepted to the immersive program that focuses on a research project in the diverse fields of comparative biology.

Brittney left such an impression after she completed the 10-week program that the museum asked her to return after graduation. She started volunteering this past summer and earned a temporary job helping to prepare the new exhibit. She encourages everyone to check out the insectarium, now that it’s officially open to the public.

“To future ESF students, I would say don’t be afraid to get involved. Talk to your professors about your shared interests and actively seek out opportunities because you never know what might happen!”