Montana State University

Studentlivin'@msu: Fans of all sizes praise kid magnet

September 18, 2006 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Devon Lawson, an MSU biology student, plays at a rice table with Alex Jones, left, and Liam Ganser. All three are regulars at the Children's Museum of Bozeman. (MSU photo by Carol Flaherty).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- On a quiet day at Montana State University, Devon Lawson is known as Devon the biology major.

In the exciting days of August, he was Devon the "Unsung Hero."

Then, there are times around dinner tables, the movie theatre and the Children's Museum of Bozeman when the Billings native is called THE Devon, as in "You don't know who Devon is?" or Devon the Zoom master, or Devon the kid magnet, or Devon the rock star scientist with his own fan club.

"This guy is amazing," Heidi Jones said one afternoon when she picked up her son, Alex, from the Children's Museum at 234 E. Babcock Street in Bozeman. Alex had just built a space shuttle out of marshmallows and colored toothpicks during Club Zoom, an after-school science club led by Lawson and Rose Vallor.

"He's absolutely fantastic with the kids," said Jones, a native of Nottingham, England. "He has a gift for teaching and a gift for kids, and the combination is amazing. He is a big asset to the museum, a huge asset to the museum."

Lawson was seen on television for a month after KWYB in Bozeman selected him as the Unsung Hero for his work at the museum. Chris Bach, who produced the TV spot, said Lawson really seemed to brighten children's days. He also kept people returning to the museum. Lawson works at the museum 15 to 18 hours a week during the school year and 35 hours during the summer.

"He was an easy pick," Bach said.

Brittany Denny, operations director at the museum, said she had one simple reason for nominating Lawson.

"Devon is wonderful," she said. "There's nobody here that has a bigger fan base. Kids go crazy for him. He makes every class fun and exciting."

Sharon Glick, program director, said she would've nominated Lawson if Denny hadn't.

"He's really, really 12," she joked.

"He has a strongly developed inner child," she added. "He's also very responsible, so it's kind of that perfect mix."

But enough from the grownups. School is over for the day, and here come the kids. Lawson is waiting for them with pretzels, crackers, apple juice and a personal greeting.

"Oh, no. It's Zackalackamacattacka," he said to one boy who likes nickname games.

After a few rounds of juice ("We do this everyday so they have energy for the totally awesome activities we do," Lawson said.), Lawson moved to another table where he and a few children poured rice and talked about their day. At 4:10, the Pied Piper of Zoom led the children into the club room where Lawson discussed structures and Vallor led them in a marshmallow pledge.

"Raise your hand and say after me. 'I promise that I will not eat any structural marshmallows today or ever, so help me Zoom,'" she said. She told them that she had magically transformed ordinary miniature marshmallows into structural marshmallows at her home. No one but she and Lawson would've known the difference.

"Structural marshmallows are very dry, perfect for building, not for eating," Lawson explained.

Apparently convinced, the children built pyramids and cubes and square and triangles without sneaking a bite, then advanced to houses and towers. Comments about the strongest, tallest and coolest veered into talk of gumdrops and leeches before swinging back toward melted marshmallows and valuable triangles.

"In the building world, triangles are like gold," Lawson said.

Inspired as a kid by watching Mr. Wizard on television, Lawson said he may someday teach middle school children. "It seems like middle school is one of the hardest times, a really awkward age," he said. "If I can be a cool science teacher, that would be awesome."

In the meantime, Lawson plans to continue working at the museum in addition to his studies. On some days, he teaches the children with dry ice that crawls and bubbles that gurgle. On others, he plays with shadows and light. But any day, he revels in new projects and creativity.

"Is there a cool award?" Lawson asked as he looked over three tables of marshmallow and toothpick projects. "I think every single one is cool."

Q & A with Devon Lawson

Hometown: Billings
Major: Biology education.

What's the best movie you've seen?
Anything with Samuel L. Jackson in it. He is, without a doubt, my favorite actor.

What's your favorite book?
The Harry Potter series has been my favorite reading experience so far.

What do you do for fun?
I usually either talk about the philosophy behind rock 'n' roll or play video games.

Who are your role models?
So many to name... My mom and dad, as well as my sisters, Megan and Corinne, due to the fact that they are my family and influence everything I do. Leon "Papa" Wiese because he has literally been there for me since birth, from band concerts to my college education. He has helped me every step of the way. Britt Kindelman for putting up with my shenanigans. Brandon Hendricks for being the coolest person ever. Last but not least Godzilla because she smashes just about everything. That's right, Godzilla is a girl.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
If I'm not touring in an internationally-known rock band, I will be teaching biology somewhere here in Montana.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or