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!