Animal Health Students Walk on the Wild Side of Career Education
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Animal health already is a very hot industry for jobs, everything from veterinarians to raising livestock to running pet stores. And it’s expected to grow even hotter for years to come. In preparing for jobs in the animal health industry, this week’s Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achievers are going wild. Their classroom the summer has been the Kansas City Zoo.
Sure, dogs and cats and hamsters are fun and interesting but high school sophomores-to-be have been getting up close and personal this summer to some of nature’s most exotic creatures. After all, how many kids get the chance to learn first-hand about giant cockroaches, rare tortoises, tarantulas, even polar bears and then get to turn around and present what they have learned to eager zoo visitors?
“Ever since I was in the 5th grade,” says 15 year old Carlos Guzman, “I’ve had a passion for studying animals. And they just fascinate me. Every sort of animal. Insects to elephants. And I really wanted to become a veterinarian and now that I’ve entered this program, it’s opened up a whole new view. Now I’m seeing there’s more than just being a vet.”
And that’s the whole point, as the Kansas City Zoo partners with the Olathe School District for these teenagers to do animal health career study right at the zoo.
“They’re going to get the opportunity to explore a variety of different careers at the zoo,” says James Estes, the Olathe School District Animal Health Program facilitator, “everything from zookeeper to marketing to fundraising, everything that makes a zoo work. So they have the opportunity to see, ‘I don’t have to just work directly with animals to be involved in an animal health career.’”
“Most of these kids that want to do an experiment like this with us already have a love of animals which is just extremely important,” says Debra Ryder, Kansas City Zoo education director. “And they tend to be amazed. They are inquiry-focused. They really want to do some digging and some experimentation to see ways they can broaden their horizons.”
And from day one the kids really dug in, gaining real-world experience.
“I think the most interesting is definitely what’s behind the scenes, how the cages are run,” says 15 year old Sarah Myers. “And I think it’s really interesting to see in what the animals are kept and how they’re kept when they’re not on display.”
And what’s more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than cleaning cages? Yes, the zoo had the Olathe animal health career students doing that the first day.
“Which was an interesting experience,” says Sarah with a laugh.
The animal health program these teenagers are in is one of several cutting-edge career preparation learning experiences that high school students have in the Olathe School District.
“I think it’s really great that I can focus on an area,” says 15 year old Mary Mitchell. “It makes learning a lot more fun. And it’s not an opportunity that everyone gets.”
Indeed, this one is a real rarity. The zoo says it’s unique in the Kansas City region and just may be the only program of its kind in the country.
“That whole animal health corridor that’s trying to be developed in the community, we need to be a big player in that because we have so much to offer,” says Ryder.
So much to offer bright, dedicated, motivated teenagers who love animals and want their futures to revolve around them.
“It’s really special to me just because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it falls right in line with what I want to do in my life,” says Sarah.
Kansas State University is a partner in this program, as well, coming through with scholarships to students to cover much of the cost of the zoo learning experience.
We have exciting news about last week’s Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever. U.S. Presidential Scholar Megan Smith of Lenexa, Kan., a recent graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School, competed at the National BioGENEius Challenge in Boston over the past few days with her impressive biotechnology research project. Megan soared there, coming out as one of the top ten U.S. finalists out of 435 competitors.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.
Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.