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Earn your Master's with Woodland Park Zoo

Posted by: Jenny Mears, Education

Interested in pursuing your degree through the Advanced Inquiry Program? Join us for an informational forum on November 13!

Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) has teamed up with Project Dragonfly from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to offer the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP), an exciting Master’s program for a broad range of environmental and education professionals, including classroom teachers, zoo and aquarium professionals, and informal educators. The AIP offers a ground-breaking graduate degree focused on inquiry-driven learning as a powerful agent for social change, public engagement, and ecological stewardship. Woodland Park Zoo is one of eight institutions across the country that offers the AIP Master’s.

The first AIP cohort at WPZ started in 2011 (many of whom are graduating this December!) and students have already reported positive changes in their personal and professional lives. We asked Carole Parks, AIP graduate student and an instructor with the Community Colleges of Spokane, to illustrate the impact that this program has had on her teaching, her community, and her life.

AIP graduate students hiking to Dutch Henry Falls with Chuck Warner, Arid Lands Program Director, The Nature Conservancy. Photo: Kelly Frazee/Woodland Park Zoo.

WPZ: Why did you apply to the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP)?
Carole:  I've always dreamed of studying zoology. When I was growing up in San Diego, we would frequent the zoo there and we would never miss Omaha's Wild Kingdom TV program. Wildlife has always fascinated me and doing something on behalf of wildlife, such as addressing climate change, makes me feel empowered. When the AIP opportunity came up, it was a natural fit.

WPZ: What impact has the program had on you personally and professionally?
Carole:  This program has enriched my life deeply. On a personal basis, it has been a source of joy and hope in a difficult time in my life. It's very motivating to work on something that I feel so passionate about... and it's downright fun when we have face to face days at the zoo or in the field. I participated in our Northwest Wildlife Conservation course this summer, where we engaged in four days of learning about and participating in wildlife conservation in Washington’s Columbia Plateau. 

We met farmers working to incorporate sustainable practices in their agriculture as well as land managers from the Nature Conservancy and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologists working on pygmy rabbit recovery and golden eagle conservation. We answered our own questions about the area through inquiry investigations of the area’s wildlife and habitat. 

Carole Parks, AIP graduate student, assisting Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologists in taking tissue samples from a pygmy rabbit in the Sagebrush Flats recovery area. Photo by Tracey Byrne.

We also met Nancy Warner, coordinator with the Initiative for Rural Innovation and Stewardship, who was very inspiring. She helped us challenge ourselves to involve our communities in our local projects. 

AIP graduate students meeting Nancy Warner, coordinator with the Initiative for Rural Innovation and Stewardship, at McCartney Creek Meadow. Photos by Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.

We kept field journals during this experience and even though I love to journal, this assignment stretched me in a meaningful way. I've been trying to grow in my drawing ability, so this particular assignment was inspirational. The coursework never ceases to interest me and make me even more curious about the world around us.

On a professional level, I teach adult education, much of it developmental education or GED. It has been exciting to be able to implement many of the things I have learned, both content and process, in my classroom. There's nothing better than seeing the "aha" on my students' faces when they understand a science concept that they may have previously struggled with. They also catch my passion. For instance, I taught a lesson about the expense and environmental impact of buying bottled water. They said "Hey! How come this is not on the news? Everyone needs to know this!" Another professional perk is that I participate in citizen science wildlife monitoring, which I hope leads to some paid fieldwork someday, maybe during the summers! I don't think I would want to give up the influential position of being a teacher!

Excerpts from Carole Parks’ Northwest Wildlife Conservation journal

WPZ: What impact has this program had on your community?
Carole:  In the beginning of the program, I really thought hard about this question. What kind of impact did I want to have on my community? After all, knowledge without action is pretty worthless. So I decided to focus on a local, urban park: Drumheller Springs, in my hometown of Spokane, Washington. It started out as a website for the Biology in the Age of Technology class, but it has developed into much more than that! I am now doing active research in the park and hope to publish a paper in the next year! We have some heritage plants with Salish names and traditional medicinal uses, thanks to collaboration with my Spokane Tribal friend, Barry Moses, and we hope to get some audio clips with Salish narrative on the website. The native historical aspect of the park is a highlight and is great for visitor information. Now my website is the first that comes up when you put Drumheller Springs, Spokane into a search engine! It's all very exciting and I can't wait to see how this website develops in the future. 

I am very proud of the education I am receiving at Woodland Park Zoo and Miami University of Ohio. I already have a MS in education, so the addition of this degree will lead me to even more exciting work. I would encourage anyone who even has a slight interest to check out this program, it's one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me!

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