Drake University expands program for those who want to work in a zoo

Starting this fall, students at Drake University will be able to study under a new zoo and conservation science degree.

There’s been a similar curriculum concentration for Drake students to tack onto their majors since 2015 and the university recently approved expanding it to a full degree. Drake professor Michael Renner says the program will prepare students to take on entry-level jobs in zoos, especially when zoo directors claim most applicants for these roles are unqualified.

“You need to know something about biological mechanisms, the transmission of disease, microbiology, physiology,” Renner says. “You need to know something about how animals fit into the world, so that would be ecology and organisms, scale biology, not looking at the parts, but looking at the whole critter, and you need to know something about behavior.”

The program is partnering with Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. Renner says students will spend time at the zoo through many of the degree’s classes. Renner says with the full degree, students will not only learn about animals, but also take a management course so they can grow their careers beyond entry level.

“Students do two internships before they graduate and that’s kind of a differentiating factor from other places where a student might be able to pick up an internship,” Renner says. “They’re very competitive in the zoo world. It’s kind of a mark of the quality of the program that our students are so successful in competing for internships, and by the time they graduate having had two, then they’re very competitive for the jobs.”

Renner says well-trained zoo workers make zoos better places for animals to receive conservation and care. Students can sign up for the major starting this fall.

(By Catherine Wheeler, Iowa Public Radio)