Learning the ropes while interning at a zoo could involve anything from feeding animals, giving talks, operating a train to—yikes—cleaning pens.
There are at least three University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students honing their skills this summer, while helping area zoos with their operations.
Steve Freund, an environmental studies major, is interning at Menominee Park Zoo in Oshkosh; Bridget Mendoza, communication studies, is interning at NEW Zoo in Suamico; and Calvin Schickel, also a communication studies major, is interning at Milwaukee County Zoo.
“What I like about this internship is that it’s fun to be here,” Mendoza said about her role at NEW Zoo. “It’s a great and fun environment with the animals, people and kids around the zoo. Every day there is something to do and I get to spend time outside and enjoy the outdoors.”
Mendoza said she is learning a lot of new social media marketing strategies and improving her photography and videography skills.
The fifth-year student who is a native of Oshkosh said her career aspiration is to get in the marketing field for a company she enjoys.
Her favorite animals at the zoo are giraffes and penguins. She also enjoys seeing the otter pups who were born during the summer.
Schickel, a native of Wauwatosa, has worked for the Milwaukee County Zoo for 5.5 years and decided this summer to focus his internship on improving organizational communication within the zoo’s operations department.
“One of my favorite classes in the communications program so far has been ORCOM (organizational communication), so I figured this would be perfect for me to help the zoo work on,” he said.
Schickel helps schedule meetings, sends emails to people in the departments and helps them stay connected. He has organized signage in the parking lot, relabeled gates and created a system for calling emergency vehicles.
He hopes to create an Uber lane for taxis and drop-offs at the zoo, so they don’t have to come into the parking lot. His plan needs approval from the Milwaukee County Board, and he is requesting permission to use a portion of adjacent Bluemound Road for the pick-ups and drop-offs.
Prior to his internship, Schickel was one of three locomotive engineers. He was featured last year as part of a Milwaukee TV news story that promoted the 60th anniversary of the train. He educates visitors on the trains’ operations, promoting it to future riders. He also has been working with a children’s publication author who wants to create a story about Schickel and the train.
Freund, who resides in Neenah, is earning credit through an environmental studies 300 internship course. A non-traditional student, he retired with 20 years in the military. He has an associate degree and credit from his military career, but has two years left to graduate with his bachelor’s degree.
“Since I’ve already completed one career, I am taking the opportunity to do things I really enjoy and have wanted to do for a while now,” he said. “One thing that I have always wanted to do is be involved in some sort of scientific research.”
He intends on applying to the biology master’s program and hopes to get a chance to work on wildlife research.
Ultimately, he would like to continue working in wildlife research—possibly with the Department of Natural Resources—or other wildlife-related organization.
“So far, my favorite thing about the internship is using my knowledge of animals to have positive interactions with zoo patrons. I really like seeing the patrons get excited while learning about the animals.
A few of the animals are brought out to an area in the zoo as part of educational programming that lets people get a close-up view. Animal enrichment involves finding things to entertain and enrich the animals’ lives. It might be different toys or even adding ice cubes to their cages.
Lately, Freund has been having one-on-one time with baby skunks to get them accustomed to human interaction.
Freund said cleaning the cages isn’t exactly the most fun, but he realizes it is part of the job.
Chrissy Lambie, an internship coordinator at UW Oshkosh, said internships, clinical work, field placement, student teaching or any direct experience a student can gain, allows them to bridge their academic experiences to the world of work.
“Employers want students with industry experience,” she said. “Internships make students that much more marketable upon graduation or at grad school application time.”
Students know internships aren’t always linked to a paycheck.
Students consider unpaid internships for a variety of reasons: experience in a chosen field, getting a foot in the door with an organization, opportunities to build professional skills, and an opportunity to decide if the career path they have chosen is something they want to continue to pursue.
Interns Mendoza and Schickel are working with Lambie to earn academic credit through the COLS internship program. Freund is working with Richard Marshall, another internship coordinator, to earn credit through the Environmental Studies 300 Internship Course.