A Day in the Life of an Educator Guide

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

At the San Diego Zoo, education is very important. It is critical to spread information about conservation and promote doing what you can, like recycling and being aware of the effects you have on nature. Maya O’Connor is an educator guide at the Zoo and works hard to inform others about conservation, which is the Zoo’s main focus. She is great at engaging and captivating people with riveting facts, such as how jaguars have spots within their spots, which is one easy way to discern them from leopards, and how elephants are matriarchal in nature, which means that the females are in charge of the herds.

Ms. O’Connor is also involved in the interaction and training of animals. Trainers are introduced to animals and spend time alone with them to bond and form relationships. Positive reinforcement, such as food rewards, is used to aid with training. One of the animals that Ms. O’Connor works with is Armando Santiago, an 11-year-old 3-banded armadillo. Animals like this are brought to places such as children’s hospitals, schools, and retirement communities. This allows people of all ages to interact and learn about the animals and conservation.

Another important part of her job is the animal handling time throughout the week, which allows the trainer and animal to continue to form working relationships. But the best part of the job for Ms. O’Connor is when she gets to make someone’s day, whether they’re in preschool or age 100, by letting them pet a hedgehog or say “hi” to a porcupine.

Ms. O’Connor received her bachelor of science in animal science with a specialization in companion animals and a minor in education from the University of California, Davis. She also got her master’s in education there and has teaching credentials in both biology and agricultural education. Prior to her job here at the Zoo, she worked at a vet clinic, at UC Davis’s animal facilities dealing with the nursery and the dairy sections, and taught many classes as a high school agriculture teacher at Pleasant Grove High School. She applied to work at the Zoo when a job opened up and was 1 of 3 out of around 180 applicants to get accepted. She had to go through 40 hours of bus training and 40 hours of behind-the-scenes training to prepare for the job.

Ms. O’Connor recommends that if you want a job in this field, work hard. It takes a lot of experience, and education background is wanted, whether it is with animals or teaching. A good way to get involved and get the needed experience is to intern or volunteer in an animal or education-related field and to work your way into a job. Educating others and working with animals make for a wonderful and exciting job, and one that you all should think about.

Molly, Careers Team (Week 1)