Little Rock Zoo a hub for Unity College interns and alumni alike
Over the years, Unity College students have left their mark on businesses across the nation through careers and internships, helping build unspoken partnerships and blazing career paths for students to come. One small zoo in Little Rock, Arkansas has found itself an unexpected hub for Unity students at all stages of life: alumni and current students alike.
Little Rock Zoo, one of Arkansas’ most attended attractions and the state’s largest and only accredited zoo, serves as both a recreational experience and a hands-on classroom for staffers and visitors alike. Home to more than 725 animals representing over 200 species, from African penguins to the zoo’s heritage farm, the zoo is small but engaging and offers great potential for hands-on experience in the Captive Wildlife field.
“I like being able to work with and get excited about the animals and to share that excitement with our visitors,” Little Rock Zookeeper Tiffany DeMell (‘15) said. “It’s especially rewarding if someone is afraid or shy of an animal, and they leave with a bit more confidence and understanding. There’s also a unique dynamic here, where I get to help out in different departments.”
Tiffany primarily works in the Farm and Water Fowl departments at the zoo, handling animals that vary as wildly as flamingos and surry dogs to horses and sheep. She says the opportunity to work with species has been wonderful, giving her great experience in different aspects of her field. Tiffany says she still calls Barn Manager Meg Anderson fairly regularly to talk about different animal diets and advises all current and former students to take full advantage of the connections and resources left behind in Unity, Maine.
Tiffany’s fiancé, Chaz James (‘16), also works with a variety of different animals at the zoo, from anteaters to tropical birds, red river hogs, camels, and alpacas. His favorite aspect of the job is animal training, and he said having a training background from Unity College has been very helpful.
“Unity properly prepared me for a zoo career. I knew what I was getting myself into and what I wanted,” Chaz said. “I’ve seen a lot of interns at other zoos that don’t really know what to expect. The captive program at Unity teaches you exactly what you’re going to do.”
Both Chaz and Tiffany agree that the Little Rock Zoo internship program offers a great opportunity for hands-on experience. As opposed to performing tasks that are purely observational or away from the animals, interns at Little Rock spend their days directly helping zookeepers, from feeding, to training, to shadowing vets and even watching surgeries. Carnivore Keeper and Internship Coordinator Kate Barszczowski said that interns work in specific areas such as carnivore, great ape, and reptile.
“Part of our internship is to gain experience and to find out whether this is the right field for you. If we never let you interact with the animals how would you ever get that experience?” she said. “We’re a small zoo and we’re all hands on deck. What I see this program doing is helping shape the next generation of keepers, and that means doing the job.”
Every year Little Rock gets more and more Unity College applicants for their limited internships positions. Past interns and Unity College alumni who work at Little Rock as full-time employees report back to the community on the opportunities there. Barszczowski said they often know exactly how many Unity students are in an applicant pool because staffers let them know and check in on their status. She said it’s obvious how invested in they are in their Unity community.
“One thing we’ve also noticed in our Unity College applicants, both those who work here full time and those who intern, is their enthusiasm. They’re passionate, ready and willing to do the job,” Barszczowski said. “They’re always well versed in their animal knowledge, and we take that good foundation and put it into practice. We’re a small zoo, and not necessarily well known, but I think we do a good job of educating our interns and setting them up for the future. I’m proud of what many of them have gone on to accomplish.”
Little Rock Zoo isn’t the only internship site that’s building up its own Unity contingent. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is both a popular internship site and full-time employer for the college’s graduates. White Mountain National Forest in Lincoln, N.H. has worked with the college for years, and Mingho Springs Golf Course, in partnership with the Audubon Society, guarantees at least one internship slot a year to Unity students who want to help create more conservation focused areas within the Rangeley, Maine golf course. Internships bring Unity College students across the country every year, trailblazing paths in environmental career fields and growing the college’s reputation for graduating capable, passionate employees.