John Ball Zoo
For the last few years, I have been lucky enough to call John Ball Zoo my home. Since my start in 2017, I've worked as a seasonal experiences facilitator, moved to the education department as a zoo guide, was eventually promoted to lead zoo guide, and finally ended up as a guest programs supervisor. John Ball Zoo offers countless amazing opportunities for guests to learn about zoology, conservation, animal welfare, and more. Some of my favorites are Story Time, Behind the Scenes Encounters, and Daily Animal Programs.
Story Time was designed with preschool-aged children in mind. I read a short picture book to the kids, and then bring out one of our ambassador animals related to the story. This is always a great opportunity for kids (and parents!) to get up close with wildlife and learn something new in the process. Similarly, Behind the Scenes Encounters offer an exciting personal experience with animals, from penguins, to chimpanzees, to red pandas and more. For the guest, it's a unique and memorable time, and for me, it's an amazing way to talk about animal welfare, Species Survival Plans, conservation efforts, and everything in between. These are also topics I try to incorporate at every Daily Animal Program I narrate. These are things like feedings, trainings, and enrichment for the public to watch, where I typically go on microphone to interpret what's happening. As a guest programs supervisor, I not only get to facilitate these programs myself, but I also get to train seasonal education staff on them as well! On top of that, I'm able to create many educational resources for zoo staff to use, such as species fact sheets, interpretation guides, and more. John Ball Zoo has a remarkable education department and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it!
Potter Park Zoo
As a smaller budget zoo, Potter Park relies on highly trained docents to carry out most of their education programs. When I became a docent in 2018, I completed a rigorous ten-week training program focused heavily on animal biology and how to communicate those concepts to an audience, as well as the ins and outs of how many zoos function. My main role as a docent is to perform live animal demos at programs such as holiday events, science fairs, and community festivals. I was also lucky enough to be involved in some of the training of the zoo's education animals, specifically the tarantula, who very quickly became one of my favorite coworkers!
Potter Park Zoo also participates in Big Zoo Lesson, where schoolkids use the zoo as their classroom for a week. On one of the five days, students participate in the Rhino Lesson, which is very special to me. Students first learn about different rhino adaptations and habitats. I always like to put a special focus on what we as a zoo are doing to help rhinos and what they can do at home to help rhinos. Afterwards, students are invited into the rhino barn to meet our female black rhino, Doppsee. No matter how many times I teach the lesson, I will never get tired of seeing students' faces light up after offering Doppsee a piece of sweet potato, or excitedly whispering to their friends how they are going to tell EVERYONE they got to meet a rhino. Potter Park's immersive approach to conservation education has been a staple in both my professional life as an educator, and my personal life as an advocate for wildlife and conservation. I'm thankful for every minute!
Binder Park Zoo
Binder Park Zoo is where I got my start in conservation education, and to whom I attribute much of my advocacy for zoos and aquariums. Here I participated in many different education programs, such as overnights and travel zoos, but my primary focus as an intern was summer camps for children ages 5-8 and 9-12.
This was my first real experience with informal educating, animal handling, and program development. It was a challenging, but deeply rewarding summer, modifying each camp to be better than the one before, implementing new teaching strategies, designing relevant and engaging games, activities, and crafts, and learning each day from the students themselves. The positive response from the campers and encouragement from my supervisors is something I carry with me to this day. As pictured above, it is a constant reminder and motivator to continue on my path of conservation education and to keep inspiring future wildlife warriors.