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Earn a Master's Degree that Enables You to be a Conservation Leader

Posted by Ryan Driscoll, Lead Learning Facilitator, Science & Conservation Education

Have you dreamed of going back to school? Are you looking for ways to make a difference in your community and for the environment? Since 2001, Woodland Park Zoo has been partnering with Miami University of Ohio to offer a groundbreaking graduate degree that allows students to become conservation leaders within their communities and globally. Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) Master’s students and alumni are agents for positive environmental change are they have amazing stories to share. Maybe they'll inspire you to take conservation action!

This blog features current AIP student Margaret Hanzlick-Burton. She shares how her AIP experience has given her the courage to engage with new communities in Seattle, across the United States, and in Borneo. Check it out!

WPZ: Why did you apply to the Advanced Inquiry Program?

My road to the AIP is long and winding. I have a bachelor’s degree in theatre performance and taught children’s theatre for a while, which I loved doing. While teaching theatre, I applied for a presentation and interpretation position at the Kansas City Zoo. After I got the job, I realized that my passion lies in environmental conservation and its communication. Soon after, we moved to Seattle where I saw a flyer for AIP. The program was exactly what I was looking for in terms of furthering my knowledge and career! I’m so glad I chose to be part of AIP because it has given me experiences and connections that I wouldn’t otherwise have ever had.

WPZ: What is the most interesting part of the program?

I really enjoy getting to learn with and from a group of people who share my same passion for environmental conservation. My classmates (both in Seattle and online) come from such a wide variety of backgrounds and I feel that I benefit from their varied experiences. Some are teachers, some are animal keepers at zoos or aquariums, and others work in areas from event planning to computer programming. Everyone brings a different perspective to our discussions which we all can learn from.

Margaret Hanzlick-Burton worked with researchers, community members, palm oil growers and other fellow students to learn about the environmental issues that affect people and wildlife in Borneo.

WPZ: Tell us about your Earth Expedition course to Borneo!

To say the trip was life changing would be an understatement! In Borneo, I got to live with and work beside people who are working hard on behalf of the environment every single day. We talked with researchers, community members, students, and oil palm growers and learned about the environmental issues that concern them. Getting to see orang-utans, elephants, pangolins, proboscis monkeys, and sun bears in the wild wasn’t too bad, either! The Earth Expedition course provided me with a global perspective on the subjects I’ve been studying for a year and a half.

WPZ: What impact has this program had on your community?

One of my favorite elements of this program is that it forces me to go outside my comfort zone and engage with my community. I’ve involved high school students, teachers, Bornean community members, and Seattle bar patrons in my projects. I would never have had the courage or the opportunity to engage with all those people on my own. Many AIP courses focus on community-based conservation and AIP students get to (and are required to) put this concept into practice. One of the important lessons I’ve learned from this program is that if the affected community is not an integral part of conservation programs, the chance is high that those initiatives will fail. I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to the people around me and involve them in my work.

Margaret Hanzlick-Burton's studies with the AIP program took her to the forests of Borneo.

 WPZ: How does this program impact you personally and professionally?

I often discuss conservation and environmental issues with friends, family, and the general public at work. My AIP coursework has given me the tools to be more articulate about the subjects I’ve always wanted to talk about but haven’t been exactly sure how to (value of zoos, evolution, climate change, etc.). Now I feel much more comfortable discussing these topics with others in an informed, empathetic way.

I will admit that it can be challenging to balance life, work, and AIP. But I can assure you that it’s completely worth it. It’s very rewarding to feel that I’m working toward a degree that will hopefully help to make the world a better place. I get to take classes in subjects that I am not only very interested in but that are also relevant to the work I do and to my career.

WPZ: Who would you recommend this program for?

Are you passionate about conservation? Do you not only want to learn more about environmental issues but also do something about them? Are you looking for ways to engage with your community about subjects that matter? Then AIP is for you!

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

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