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Earn Your Master’s degree the wild way!

Posted by Alicia M. Highland, Education 

Woodland Park Zoo’s Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) Master’s students and alumni are enacting environmental stewardship and social change locally and globally. Here is just one of their amazing stories:

This week’s blog features AIP alumni Nate Brown. He shares how his AIP experience took him on a journey to Patagonia, Chile and helped him discover the importance of engaging local communities in environmental conservation. 

Why did you apply to the Advanced Inquiry Program?
As much as I love science, I knew right away that I didn’t want to become a scientist as a profession.  I came to this program because I was finally able to see the need for education, communications, and community engagement within the conservation world. Those were values and skills I could bring and develop further. I just needed to learn how to apply them.

What impact has the program had on you personally and professionally?
This program has had a great impact on me both personally and professionally. Personally, it has renewed my passion for conservation issues. It gave me an outlet to focus my feelings in a productive way rather than wallowing in despair. It’s also fun! I really enjoyed going to the zoo to learn, and geeking out on interesting journal articles with other like-minded folks.
Professionally, it gave me a great networking opportunity, and it gave me a constructive place to apply my knowledge, experience and skills to conservation issues. It didn’t take long to realize that the program was flexible enough to accommodate my interests, needs and changing lifestyle.  

How did your involvement in AIP encourage you to go to Patagonia?
During the middle of my program, my family and I decided we needed a change and so we rented out our home for a year, moved into a van and drove from Seattle to Patagonia. I had an open conversation with my school advisor and we found a way for me to use that trip as an opportunity to explore some academic interests. This flexibility is one reason I appreciate this program, and when I stop and think about it, the strong online infrastructure of Project Dragonfly is the only reason I was able continue studying on the trip.

During that year I continued pursuing my interest in audio as a conservation storytelling medium. I researched and produced a story about the complications of conservation work in the Lacandon Jungle, Chiapas, Mexico. That story was later used as a resource for another AIP class focusing on parks and people.

What impact has AIP had on your community?
Another way this program has affected me both personally and professionally is through the emphasis it places on community impact. This emphasis was not only of great importance to me (what good is knowledge without action?), I also found it to be the most challenging aspect of the program.  I really struggled to know who my community was.  That may sound silly, but it’s a struggle I’ve faced most of my life. I moved a lot as a child and adult, I rarely feel that I fit in with others, and like many white Americans, I tend to view myself as an individual rather than part of a group.  These three things have kept the concept of community at a vague distance from me.
However, through this program I spent many days and nights reflecting on who my community was as it relates to my interest in conservation issues. Those reflections led me to ask, “How do I interact with the natural world?” My answer was through outdoor recreation. It may not sound like much, but it was a breakthrough and allowed me to focus many projects that really interested me at this intersection of conservation and recreation. I helped hikers create a sound map of a local trail which opened a door to discuss the importance of soundscapes, I managed a citizen science program with a local mountaineering club, I investigated the possible link between paddle sports and the spread of invasive species, and the relationship with that recreational community continues. I don’t know that I would have found my community had it not been for the AIP, and perhaps that’s the biggest reason I can say I am thankful for this program.

AIP Program Details
Woodland Park Zoo is thrilled to offer the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP), an exciting Master’s degree from Miami University with experiential learning and field study with the zoo.  The AIP offers a groundbreaking graduate degree focused on inquiry-driven learning as a powerful agent for social and ecological change.The AIP is designed for a broad range of professionals from education, conservation, business, and government settings.Since the program began in 2011, Woodland Park Zoo’s students and graduates have been enacting amazing environmental stewardship and social change in their communities.

The Advanced Inquiry Program combines web-based instruction with experiential learning on-site at Woodland Park Zoo and provides students with hands-on, real-world experience with conservation education, community engagement, inquiry-based learning, and environmental stewardship. Students may decide to incorporate regional or international field courses as part of their AIP coursework.

Want to know more?
Sign up for a digital information session! Join other prospective students from around Puget Sound to learn more about this Master’s degree opportunity.

For current year info sessions, please check out