Graduation is like Celebration, only with different letters at the front

WHEW! That was a wild 2.5 years! Can you believe that the Zoo just had its first two students earn their Master’s Degrees through our Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP)? We’re talking honest-to-goodness graduate students earning bona fide Master’s Degrees AT THE ZOO. I’m going to let you take that in for a bit.

AIP Students Learning at the Zoo

Indeed, people, we Cincinnatians have yet another reason to be proud of our ol’ Zoo – AIP is the first Master’s degree program ever offered through a Zoo, and Cincinnati and Brookfield (in Chicago) were the first to offer this program back in 2010. Now, we have TWO teachers who have Master’s Degrees because of it:

Charity Distel is a high school teacher at William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio. Charity focused her Master’s work on developing inquiry-based and participatory education models for engaging high school students in conservation initiatives. Charity’s work provided high school teachers with effective and practical methods for integrating scientific inquiry into their classrooms, and helped empower high school students to become more invested in conservation issues. I should also point out that she’s a phenomenal singer/songwriter!

“I feel like after this program I definitely have a better appreciation for the complexities of conservation.  I am a more credible teacher because of my experiences in this program… I am further inspired to continue trying to emphasize the importance of conservation in my community and to promote and create avenues for students to be involved in conservation programs and activities.”

Marita Rosenbauer is a high school teacher at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati. Marita focused her work on engaging high school students with conservation and ecology through inquiry-based and participatory activities in campus gardens. Marita’s work not only brought a garden to the campus of Purcell Marian, but also helped integrate Purcell Marian’s campus into a community beautification project managed by the East Walnut Hills Assembly. She also makes a mean cupcake!

“With the support and encouragement of my teachers at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, I began getting my students out of the classroom and into the garden- planting and beautifying the school campus… my garden community has expanded to my principal, other teachers, students, the parents of my students… This program has brought so many great opportunities. Plus, what class can you take where you get to pet an elephant?”

AREN’T THEY AWESOME?!?! Oh, Man! My heart is full to bursting!

Okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me explain exactly what AIP is…

What is AIP? AIP is an accredited Master’s Degree program focused on inquiry-based, participatory education and public engagement in conservation. This one-of-a-kind graduate program is a collaboration between Project Dragonfly at Miami University and (as so far) seven Zoos across the nation: Brookfield, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, and Woodland Park (Seattle). AIP graduates receive the same degrees that Miami University students receive, but they do it here at the Zoo, in the company of 500 animal and 3,000 plant species! AIP students come from a variety of backgrounds – from certified teachers to informal educators at zoos and parks, business owners to community activists – we are proving that effective conservation and public engagement with science is not just the responsibility of teachers and scientists – everyone can do it!

I’m proud to be affiliated with Charity and Marita, and proud to lead the program that got them to where they are. The next round of graduate students will start up this June, and you – yes you – can be a part of that group who is working to inspire communities and change lives through participatory education and community outreach.

Visit our website today for more information or to apply. Applications are due February 28 for classes beginning in June. Don’t wait – Make the Zoo your Campus!