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Advanced Inquiry Program: Not Your Ordinary Graduate School

Guest blogger:

How many people can say they have to walk through a rainforest to get to their grad school classes?  Imagine starting your day with the sounds of gibbons greeting you, followed by a variety of birds, elephants and possibly even the beautiful display of a peacock.  This is all right before you pass the striking blue and gold macaw and sloth – and you didn’t even get to class yet.  This is how my Master of Arts in Zoology started as part of the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly at the Cincinnati Zoo.

My name is Crissi Lanier, and I am set to graduate in December. By day, I am currently the Assistant Coordinator and Toddler Teacher at the Children’s Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph.  This degree was perfect because it has taught me new topics to focus on and projects for work, as well as how to educate the families I work with about our world.  The kids and parents all get very excited and love to be part of new things and it’s very rewarding to be part of that experience. The toddlers also get very excited to visit the Zoo to see their animal “friends” that we talk about and show photos of in class.

My classmates and I (that's me in the bottom row wearing a white and green shirt) meeting the elephants

My classmates and I (that’s me in the bottom row wearing a white and green shirt) meeting the elephants

AIP is incredibly unique, focusing on the use of inquiry in learning and educating others about conservation and social change.  The 2 ½ year program combines online classes with on-site classes at one of the seven participating zoos across the country.  There’s even an option to take an Earth Expeditions class out of the country in places like Kenya or Borneo.  The program begins with a full week of classes in June to introduce the program, class and zoo campus. It includes meeting new people and animals, taking zoo tours and doing fun inquiry work with classmates.

This program is for anyone in any profession.  The classes focus on a variety of topics such as the carbon footprint, primate conservation, biodiversity and human-wildlife conflict.  What the program does even more is educate the students about the world in which they live in order to educate those around them, whether it is in a formal setting like a kindergarten classroom or informally writing children’s books.Through this program, I have met an elephant and a potto in person, learned the difference between a bonobo and chimpanzee, spoke with the woman who led the reintroduction of blue and gold macaws into their native Trinidad, been a student leader of an online class, learned the history of the Cincinnati Zoo and many other varied lessons.  The classes and instructors expect high levels of quality work. My eyes have been opened to the world I’ve spent the past 32 years living in.

Internships are part of the program and this summer I have the incredible opportunity to intern at the Zoo with Shasta Bray.  She is the Interpretive Media Manager and focuses on various interpretive aspects of the Zoo from signage at exhibits to website pages on the animals that call the Zoo home.  My focus throughout the program has been the use of imagery to help people connect with animals, so I’m very excited about this opportunity.  A summer internship at the Zoo is something I only dreamed about before, but with this program, it’s become a reality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the staff at the Cincinnati Zoo, it’s that they all truly love their jobs and the animals they care for.  This is evident in everything they do and every conversation I’ve had with anyone.  One important part of AIP at the Cincinnati Zoo is Cory Christopher.  Amongst other titles he holds, Cory runs the graduate program.  He is a leader, advisor, tour guide, instructor, plant genius and supporter.  Cory sees the bigger picture and challenges his students to pursue the bigger picture, whether it is creating nature programs for the elderly, composting in local schools or producing radio shows discussing evolution.  He is a walking example of inquiry, asking us to observe, question and look further beyond what is in front of us.

Over the last two years, I’ve been inspired, encouraged, challenged, continuously educated and motivated to act and not sit passively on the sidelines.  There’s never been a day I didn’t want to attend class or been excited to share what I had learned.  To say the least, this program has changed my life.  If you’re inspired or interested in learning more about the AIP program, I encourage you check it out. You won’t regret it!

June 13, 2013   3 Comments

Zoo Academy: Experiences that Last a Lifetime

Guest blogger: Zoo Academy student, Tyler Allgeyer

Hi! My name is Tyler Allgeyer. I’m a senior attending the Zoo Academy. This is a special two-year career tech program that runs through Hughes STEM High School. Here we take all of our normal classes such as math and English, but we also take special classes related to a zoological and a botanical field of study in the form of Zoo and Aquarium Management and Environmental Science.

Besides our tech courses, we go to what are known as labs. They are two-hour intervals at the beginning of the day for juniors and at the end of the day for seniors. Here we work as zookeepers in a six-week rotation at various departments in the Zoo.

Some of my favorite labs so far have been the Cheetah Show, Reptile House, and Manatee Springs.

Some of my favorite experiences happened while I was working at the Cheetah Show. Going into enclosures in direct contact with cheetahs is a once in a lifetime experience. This is a special opportunity the keepers let us have provided that we did a good job and worked well with them.

Meeting a cheetah

Meeting a cheetah

Manatee Springs is probably one of the best departments to work in. The keepers there are very relaxed and fun to be around. Lots of positive energy flows through there, especially when Chris is around. He’s always keeping the humor level high. The best part for me while working there was when Lindsey and I would go do the animal encounter with Hermit, a three-foot American alligator. It was the first time I had held an alligator that size. He can be a bit squirmy, but we always had a great time!

My absolute favorite department here at the Zoo is the Reptile House. Reptiles are where my heart truly lies so it makes sense. Lots of jokes and funny stories were told during my time there. I even spent some time over the summer on weekends volunteering for the whole day. I got to do some fun things like taking out snakes for animal encounters and hand feeding the Komodo dragon.

Working in the Reptile House

Working in the Reptile House

Many of the departments have some awesome people that are very easy to work with. You really get to enjoy doing your work in a fun adventurous environment. My time here at the Zoo Academy may be short, but the experiences I’ve had will last a lifetime.


March 27, 2013   7 Comments

Listening To Our Animals


With Joseph in the cougar exhibit.

As an animal trainer or even a pet owner the most important thing you can do with your animal is to listen to them. I don’t mean physically having the ability to listen to them, but rather your willingness to sit, watch, and listen. In my blog post last week it was very clear that listening to an animal I work with can be imperative – it can save your life. Like listening to Makine, my rehab Java Macaque. The keepers and staff at the Cincinnati Zoo also listen to and know their animals. A clear example of keepers knowing their animals and listening to them is found in the story of the design of the Zoo’s cougar exhibit.


Joseph as a cub.

When I was helping to raise the cougars, “Joseph” and “Tecumseh,” we had a strict schedule of exercise, enrichment, training, and play. Each day we would go for multiple walks, exercise them in the Cheetah Encounter yard, play with them, and even nap with them. We had to build a very strong bond with these animals so they could be transferred to their new enclosure and feel safe and secure. The only way to do this was to spend the time with them so even if they were worried they would trust their trainers and look to them for guidance. We wanted them to know if we weren’t worried about something, they didn’t need to be either. The only way to get that response and trust from them was to spend every day, all day, with them. Rough job, I know. [Read more →]

March 22, 2013   No Comments