It’s not every day one gets to interact with wild animals up close and personal. But Wildlife Biology student Katlyn Gardner got to do just that this fall—thanks to her service-learning experience at Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield. A Citizenship and Service-Learning (CASL) staff visited her recently during one of her shifts at the zoo to find out more about why she decided to do service-learning and how she has benefited from the exposure.
Why did you decide to do service-learning?
I knew service-learning would give me an opportunity to work at the Dickerson Park Zoo and I really wanted to do this. Visiting zoos when I was younger got me interested in wildlife biology and I saw this as a perfect way to get my feet wet in the field.
How did you secure your placement at Dickerson Park Zoo?
I decided to do service-learning quite late in the semester so I spoke with a CASL staff to see if I could still do it. She said yes as long as the zoo was willing to accept me. I called the director and it all worked out.
How has your service-learning experience been?
It’s been a good learning experience as I get to observe animal behavior first-hand and pick up on all the little facts about the different animals.
What have you learned from doing service-learning?
I’ve learned a lot about the animals such as their needs and life expectancy, and how to communicate with them. It’s great to benefit from the knowledge the zookeepers have and I’ve realized there are no stupid questions when it comes to learning about animals.
On average, how often do you work at the zoo?
One to two times a week for a few hours each day.
What kind of work do you do at the zoo?
I prepare food for the animals and help to feed them, clean their stalls and enrich their environments to keep them active.
What do you enjoy most about working at the zoo?
Working here has definitely solidified my choice to pursue this major and career pathway. Before, I was pretty sure this is what I wanted to do, but I had concerns if I was overglamourizing the job or if I was cut out for it as I’m more of a “girly” girl. Through this experience, I know I love doing this type of work and I want to be around animals and care for them.
How do you juggle your busy schedule as a student with doing service-learning?
It’s tough as I’m pretty involved on campus, but I chose to make service-learning a priority this semester. I also have a support system that motivates me to stay busy and the zoo staff have been good about working with my schedule so I can get this done.
According to Sarah Dunham, the zoo’s assistant zookeeper, students like Katlyn benefit the zoo because they help to get a lot of stuff done in terms of caring for the animals.
“We also get to engage in knowledge exchange. We teach them about the animals and the zoo, but we also learn from them,” she said. “When their work with us is done and they leave us with so much more knowledge about the different animals, they become one of our best ambassadors for conservation and wildlife management.”