Thursday, August 23, 2012

Philadelphia Zoo internship proves ‘priceless experience’ for Randolph student

Sara Graul ’13 nurtured her love for animals during trips to The Philadelphia Zoo while she was growing up. So when she was given the opportunity to work there, it was too good to pass up.

This summer, Graul interned for the Philadelphia Zoo, the oldest chartered zoo in America. She ran educational stations where she taught zoo guests about conservation while also studying the animals and their habitats.

Sara Graul ’13 worked in education and research programs
in the Philadelphia Zoo this summer.
“This internship was a truly priceless experience that has affected me in a very powerful and positive way,” Graul said. “I have learned how challenging and rewarding it is to be on the front lines of educating people on matters of science and conservation.”

She applied for the position after Doug Shedd, a Randolph biology professor, gave her a list of websites where she could search for summer internships. “I knew that working at a zoo would give me a unique experience getting to work with animals and also closely working with people of all ages in education,” Graul said. “It also would expose me to the entire array of people that make a zoo function.”

She visited Randolph’s Experiential Learning Center for guidance in drafting her resume and application. Shedd provided a recommendation letter, and then Graul snagged the job after a phone interview.

Graul’s responsibilities included education and research. She helped run “exploration stations,” where visitors looked at artifacts and participated in games that taught lessons on conservation. One of the zoo’s major themes this summer was orangutan conservation, so many of her presentations focused on the importance of trees and the effects of palm oil plantations on orangutan habitats.

For the research portion of the internship, Graul was assigned to observe various animals and events to help with ongoing research projects. She also designed her own research, which investigated interactions between the zoo’s male and female rhinoceros hornbills, “Bob” and “Nancy.” She concluded that project with a research paper and three presentations to the public.

Graul said her college studies helped prepare her to get the most out of the internship. “The material that I’ve learned at Randolph allowed me to field questions that many others could not,” Graul said. “I was able to engage in thoughtful discussions with staff concerning important issues facing science today. I also had a solid foundation to start with, allowing me to really take advantage of the knowledge that was given to me at the zoo and also to be confident in teaching others the principles of biology and conservation.”