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Category — Earth Expeditions

An Advanced Inquiry Program Graduate’s Look Back

The Zoo congratulates all of its recent graduates of the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP)! Did you know you can earn your Master’s Degree at the Zoo? Applications for the next year’s cohort are due on February 28.

Here is what one of our 2015 graduates, Faith Hilterbrand, has to say about the influence the AIP program has had on both her personal and professional life.

Guest blogger: Faith Hilterbrand (AIP-CZBG ‘15)

Have you ever had the feeling of being in just the right place, at just the right time?  I had been a junior high science teacher for seven years when Cincinnati Zoo’s Master’s program with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly appeared in my email.  I skimmed it, flagged it and thought “I’ll check this out later.”  So there it was, every day when I opened my email, and I finally gave it the attention it deserved.  As I began reading, idea after idea popped into my head and suddenly I was excited to apply.  Upon acceptance into the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) at the Cincinnati Zoo, a new challenge was thrown my way as I took a new position teaching high school life sciences.  I mean if you are going to test new waters, you may as well dive in!

The AIP quickly taught me how long it had been since I had felt the pressure of being a student.  I had to learn how to find balance while also still producing work that I was proud of at my job and in the classroom.  I often felt just like my students when faced with a new assignment, which helped me to be a better, more compassionate teacher.  The class meetings held at the Cincinnati Zoo were a time for learning and enthralling experiences, getting to see the animals up close and personal, but more importantly, I received support from classmates and instructors.  It was encouraging to know others felt as I did, and the collaborative approach to the coursework made a more significant impact on myself and each of our communities.  The focus on inquiry, scientific experimentation, and technical writing were all skills that were developed due to the coursework in the AIP and made me a more effective science teacher in preparing my students for their next academic step.  What I was not prepared for was the change it would evoke in my career aspirations and personal goals.

Learning about the Zoo's American burying beetle reintroduction project

Learning about the Zoo’s American burying beetle reintroduction project

The Advanced Inquiry Program has served as the cornerstone of change for my professional life.  The most amazing aspect is that I had zero intentions of that when I began the program.  The instructors and classmates that I was exposed to in Dragonfly, both at the Cincinnati Zoo and in online courses, were the source of inspiration that began to challenge my previously conceived career notions.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by people with a variety of ages, experiences, current work positions, and geographic locations, and I gained the courage to step outside the typical predetermined teaching path.  As I became acquainted with fellow Dragonflyer’s, I realized my own desire for professional growth and change.

Presenting results from a wetland inquiry with fellow AIP students

Presenting results from a wetland inquiry with fellow AIP students

That is the beauty of the Advanced Inquiry Program – I was able to tailor my learning to meet my professional needs and open new doors in the future.  I travelled the world, created my own internship, and gained invaluable knowledge and networking opportunities that connected education with conservation.  I knew moving forward that my teaching background would prove instrumental in taking the fork in my career path instead of staying the course.  As I have taken a year to reflect, explore, and dream of my next position, it is all the people associated with the AIP and Project Dragonfly that have encouraged and challenged me to follow my own path.

Meeting a cinereous vulture following a field course in Mongolia

Meeting a cinereous vulture following a field course in Mongolia

January 7, 2016   1 Comment

Earth Expeditions: Participating in Community-based Conservation in Kenya – Part V (Final)

For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. This year, I had the fortunate opportunity to co-facilitate Earth Expeditions Kenya: People and Wildlife in Integrated Landscapes with Dave Jenike, the Zoo’s COO. We took 17 educators with us, including formal classroom teachers as well as informal educators from zoos and similar institutions. This is the fifth and final post in a series about our experience. Read the previous post in this blog series here.

Day 8:

Today was Community Day! Following a wrap-up of the ecological monitoring projects and our last group discussion on balancing human land use and conservation in the morning, the afternoon brought us a special treat. Students from various local schools were transported to Lale’enok Resource Centre for a cultural day. Other community members, including Maasai elders and members of the Women’s Group, came to partake in the festivities as well. The students presented on the theme of “Water is Life” in the form of traditional song, dance, poetry and debate. They even invited us to join them in some of the dancing.

Schoolgirls singing a traditional song (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Schoolgirls singing a traditional song (Photo: Shasta Bray)

I had prepared the Earth Expeditions group that they might want to come up with a presentation of their own. In years past, groups ended up singing silly songs like the Hokey Pokey. This year, one of the students, Jen, brought the idea of doing the BioBlitz Dance. The Bioblitz Dance was originally created for National Geographic’s Bioblitz Event and is a celebration of the outdoors, human diversity and biodiversity, and national parks. I’m not sure it was any less silly than the Hokey Pokey, but at least it had a connection to people and wildlife. The best thing it did was break down barriers between the local community and our students, make everyone laugh and smile, and allowed us to do something in return.

Earth Expeditions students perform the Bioblitz dance. I believe this move is called "the turkey vulture". (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Earth Expeditions students perform the Bioblitz Dance. I believe this move is called “the turkey vulture”. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Later that afternoon once the students had departed, we had the chance to mingle and have small group conversations with the community members. No topic was off limits, and they were just as curious about us and our culture as we were about theirs. We talked about marriage, family and more. Everyone was so open and friendly.

Conversation between Earth Expeditions students and local community members (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Conversation between Earth Expeditions students and local community members (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Soon, we all moved to the campfire for a traditional Maasai dinner featuring fire-roasted goat. There was much more conversation, singing, dancing and star gazing before heading to our tents for the night.

Day 9:

Our last full day in the South Rift began with an early morning walk just after sunrise to a ravine overlooking the river. We walked down to the riverbank and spent some time hanging out and reflecting on all the wonderful experiences we’d had so far. On the way back, a lone hyena burst out of the bush just ahead of us and booked it across the dirt road. Amazing!

Ewaso Ng'iro river (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Ewaso Ng’iro river (Photo: Shasta Bray)

We finished up the last of our coursework with a discussion about what the students planned to do for their Inquiry Action Projects once we returned home and how it fit into their Master Plans for those in the graduate program.

Then it was time to shop! Another way we can support the community and their conservation efforts is to support their livelihoods. As a group, we had the chance to purchase a variety of hand-crafted jewelry, belts, shukas (colorful cloths) and more directly from the women who made them.

Jen Rydzewski picking out her purchases (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Jen Rydzewski picking out her purchases (Photo: Shasta Bray)

At the Zoo, we have created a Lions and Livelihoods Bracelets program. More than 200 local Maasai women showed up to sell us bracelets made in a particular design to symbolize the coexistence of people and wildlife. Each color represents an integral component: red stands for lions, black for the Maasai people, blue for peace and white for clarity. Guests can then purchase these bracelets back at the Zoo. Revenue goes back to the Olkirimatian Women’s Group to provide tuition for local school girls and contribute to the operation of the Lale’enok Resource Centre.

Inspecting Lions and Livelihoods Bracelets (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Inspecting Lions and Livelihoods Bracelets (Photo: Shasta Bray)

We spent our last evening having a sundowner with the Lale’enok staff on top of a hill overlooking the South Rift and Mount Shompole. There were plenty of laughs, hugs and pictures as we said our farewells. It was a fantastic, life-changing expedition that no one will soon forget.

August 27, 2015   No Comments

Earth Expeditions: Participating in Community-Based Conservation in Kenya – Part IV

For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. This year, I had the fortunate opportunity to co-facilitate Earth Expeditions Kenya: People and Wildlife in Integrated Landscapes with Dave Jenike, the Zoo’s COO. We took 17 educators with us, including formal classroom teachers as well as informal educators from zoos and similar institutions. This is the fourth post in a series about our experience. Read the previous post in this blog series here.

Days 5-7:

In addition to working alongside the researchers and staff at the Lale’enok Resource Centre, we also took part in some other amazing activities.

Open Inquiries and Group Discussions

Core to the mission of Earth Expeditions is inquiry. Following the QUEST model of inquiry promoted by Project Dragonfly, the students split up into small groups to conduct their own scientific investigations. Some of the creative comparative questions they asked included looking at whether there was greater terrestrial invertebrate species richness close to or farther from the river and whether DEET or dirt worked better as a bug repellent. The students also led a group discussion on community-based conservation.

Jamie and Ruth Anne tally how many different types of invertebrates they find along a transect. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Jamie and Ruth Anne tally how many different types of invertebrates they find along a transect. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Jill and Kirstie report on their dirt vs DEET investigation. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Jill and Kirstie report on their dirt vs DEET investigation. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Game Drives

Each day, about an hour or so before sunset, we would split up into the three cruisers and head out to look for wildlife on a game drive through the Olkirimatian and Shompole conservancies. While driving through Amboseli National Park earlier in the week was amazing, seeing an abundance of diverse wildlife—from zebras to bat-eared foxes to giraffes— living here on Maasai land was even more compelling.

Seeing giraffe on a game drive (Photo: Jill Bailey)

Seeing giraffe on a game drive (Photo: Jill Bailey)

At one point, our guide, Patrick, stopped to cut small branches off of a Salvadora bush. Using a knife, he pared down one end of each twig and passed them out. We chewed the ends until the fibers separated, creating a brush and then brushed our teeth with it the way the Maasai do.

Brian brushes his teeth with a Salvadora twig (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Brian brushes his teeth with a Salvadora twig (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The most exciting moment had to be when my cruiser came upon a young lion laying in the middle of the dirt road just after sunset, and this happened not long after we had to stop to change a flat tire in the bush!

Oh no! A flat tire! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Oh no! A flat tire! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai Boma Visit

One late afternoon, instead of heading out on a typical game drive, we were invited to visit with a Maasai family at their boma. When we arrived, the woman and her two young girls greeted us and showed us around.

Two beautiful young Maasai girls (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Two beautiful young Maasai girls (Photo: Shasta Bray)

As it neared sunset, we joined the herder as he brought his cattle home. In fact, he handed over the herding stick and a few of the students took over. Apparently, herding cattle is much harder than it looks! It was quite comical to watch the students try to keep the cows all moving in the right direction at the right pace.

Brian, Kirstie and Alex try to herd cattle  (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Brian, Kirstie and Alex try to herd cattle (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Once the cattle were finally in their corral, the woman then showed us how she milks the cows. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble we’d have if she’d asked us to give that a try!

Maasai woman milks a cow (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai woman milks a cow (Photo: Shasta Bray)

To be continued in a future blog post. Check back soon!

August 20, 2015   2 Comments