curioCITY: Sea of Investigation — Where teens saw the secrets of sharks and the FBI

I want to ask you all a serious question, and I’m just warning you, be prepared to think long and hard about it: why would a shark biologist and a Chicago FBI agent at the Field Museum be in the same room on January 27th? …

curioCITY 2018

Oh, you’ve got it all wrong! Everyone’s fine, no one’s hurt, no crime scenes or shark attacks to speak of. But, the Youth Council did kick off our first curioCITY of 2018!

After months of planning, marketing, and designing, we kicked off curioCITY, the teen-only career event with special guests Kevin Feldheim, a shark biologist at the Field Museum and an FBI agent who, for confidentiality reasons, we will call Agent X.

Adds to the mystery and intrigue, no? 


Kevin Feldheim focuses his research on inferring the mating system and population biology of sharks through DNA analysis, and recently has been specializing in lemon sharks. Agent X works in forensics investigation, which uses DNA technology to analyze evidence on crime scenes. So sort of like NCIS or CSI, but with less cameras and definitely no hair and makeup teams.

As the clock ticked closer to 1:00 we were ready take on this SOLD OUT event with 50 + teens attending. More important than the number of people was the diversity of teens who came with a variety of interests and perspectives. There were teens interested in physical therapy and forensics, and one person loves sharks so much she has been running a blog about them for two years! It was amazing to see teens from all around the city and suburbs hanging out together, participating in icebreaker activities such as messing around with invisible ink or taking the “What kind of Shark are You” personality quiz. (check it out here and post your results in the comments below!).


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In addition to these fun social activities, many teens took time to talk to our guest speakers directly and were engaged in all the cool things they brought such as investigative gear and a real shark jaw! For everyone who says people with jobs in the government or in science sit in a glass castle on a hill far away from reality, both of our amazing speakers proved them wrong by answering all sorts of questions throughout the afternoon.


When Agent X and Feldheim settled in on stage, everyone was quiet and eager to hear what they had to say. Our Youth Council emcees, Jack and Molly, began the interview asking what led them to their current careers, which the audience seemed particularly interested to hear. Both Agent X and Feldheim surprisingly agreed that  they had no idea they would end up in their current careers when they were teens (I think I heard a collective sigh of relief from the audience when they said this).


For Youth Council members who organize these events, one of the of the tricky elements to curioCITY is finding two people whose careers are different enough to create an interesting banter, but not so different that there is no commonality between them. This event definitely struck the perfect chord. Although on the surface shark biology and criminal investigation are very different, they shared similar feelings towards their careers on the more fundamental levels. Both agreed that within their respective careers, as advancements in science and technology are made, their work shifts and changes to embrace new ideas and approaches to investigation and research. Both also connected on how their careers led them to work abroad. 


Kevin shared his experiences of taking multiple trips to the Bahamas to study and observe lemon sharks, while Agent X took her work as far as Mongolia to help train local police in the field. In an interesting twist, both also found common ground over the dangers they both faced in their jobs. While the dangers associated with being an FBI agent are slightly more expected (for Agent X, they were almost in a shootout situation in a drug dealing case), the very real dangers of dealing with wild, powerful animals in an unpredictable, powerful ocean are something shark biologists such as Kevin face throughout their career. In something I found particularly telling, neither of them seemed significantly alarmed by the dangers their paths require them to handle. They both loved what they did so much that the risk to their own safety was overpowered by their passion.

After the interview, it was easy to see just how much of an impact both speakers left on the audience — even after the Q&A, there were lines of people waiting to speak to Kevin and Agent X to learn more. 


I think that the best and most important takeaway from this event is best said by Agent X as they reminisced how they got to be an agent of the FBI:

“It’s been been a wonderful ride. – Agent X”

In general, I think a lot of teenagers are anxious and worried about what they want to do when their older and how in the world they are going to get there. I really hope that the amazing and unexpected journeys of both Feldheim and Agent X helped set off some excitement into thinking about what the future can hold and that going along for “the ride” is part of the experience of career exploration!


Thanks to everyone who came to curioCITY, and most importantly, to our amazing guest speakers! If you loved coming to this event, or are excited to go to one in the future, please come back for the next curioCITY on May 12th, featuring Field Museum conservator and anthropologist J.P. Brown!  Learn more about this amazing scientist here! Event registration coming soon!


-Catherine, Youth Council Blogger

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