Women and Science: Careers Are Often Inspired by Camp Experience at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens

ST. LOUIS, June 2 /PRNewswire/ — Camp can inspire, motivate and create memories that last a lifetime. Every camper has a story about a counselor, an experience, or a moment when they realized what they wanted to be in life, discovered something about themselves or learned a fact they never knew before.

At SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Adventure Camps, participants often report that up-close animal encounters are what they enjoy the most. Park guests see animals in the shows, but campers get to care for, study and interact with these fascinating creatures.

For some participants, the camp experience goes beyond just a great memory, becoming the inspiration for a lifelong appreciation for wildlife, or maybe even a career in animal science. In fact, more than 150 past campers are now employed in the zoological departments of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens adventure parks.

Many of these campers are young women defying the perception that females show less aptitude for science. On the contrary, they not only have the interest and aptitude, but in some program sessions, they outnumber male campers as much as three to one.

HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE

What is it about SeaWorld and Busch Gardens camps that inspire young people, especially girls, to become interested in science?

“Because they see that they can,” says SeaWorld San Diego Director of Education Joy Wolf. “It’s empowering for young girls to be given hands-on experience and to be around animals that in the past, they’ve only read about.”

Recent research (2004) by the Roper ASW organization showed a remarkable 9 in 10 Americans believe that a summer camp featuring hands-on experiences with animals is likely to inspire a lifelong appreciation for wildlife and the environment. Because wildlife conservation and environmental awareness are key themes woven throughout all SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Adventure Camp programs, campers leave with not only a heightened awareness of the natural world around them, but also with concrete ways they themselves can make a difference.

“Teenage girls especially benefit from this type of camp program because it helps them build confidence and develop a sense of self at an age when social pressures can confuse and hinder a young woman,” says Lonnie Carton, Ph.D., family therapist and education consultant. “With a solid foundation of self-esteem in place — and the opportunity to work with and learn from female role models in science — these young girls are better equipped to make the right choices in life, and to pursue their dreams, which could include a career in science.”

The amazing experience at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens camps is like nowhere else in the world. But it’s not all glamorous.

“Girls love dolphins, we know that,” says SeaWorld San Antonio Director of Education Ann Quinn. “So they come to Career Camp, and there is this elation of being around the animals they love. But they also find out what hard work it is, what kind of dedication it takes. They get a glimpse of what this career would really be like.”

Career Campers at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks work side by side with animal care specialists, trainers and in some cases, veterinary staff and researchers. Science education ranges from animal training and behavioral science, to anatomy and physiology, to animal enrichment and animal husbandry.

“Students of all ages are captivated by the experience they get behind the scenes at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens camps,” says Carolyn Randolph, Ph.D., past president of the National Science Teachers Association. “Whether it’s preparing environmental enrichment devices for a polar bear, cleaning an orangutan habitat or swimming with dolphins, the curriculum is not only in alignment with National Science Education Standards, it’s also perfectly suited toward young campers’ interests.”

CAMP ALUMNAE

Lindsey Gandy, who is part of SeaWorld San Diego’s Animal Interaction Team, knew she wanted to work with animals when she was 14 years old.

“I was actually visiting SeaWorld San Antonio when I overheard someone talking about this great camp for kids,” says Gandy, who immediately signed up for Career Camp that summer. After that, “I was hooked and I kept going back,” she says. After three years of Career Camp, Gandy worked as a camp counselor at SeaWorld San Antonio while attending Texas A&M University in Galveston. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, Gandy got a job as an associate trainer at SeaWorld San Diego. While she enjoys working with birds and otters, Gandy has set her sights on one of the most high- profile, sought-after jobs in the world: killer whale trainer. “Killer whales are the ultimate,” she says.

Maria Kasper, who works with primates at Myombe Reserve at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, also started as a Career Camper at SeaWorld San Antonio. She attended three years of Career Camp and then worked as a counselor in the summer of 2001 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The following summer, she went back to SeaWorld San Antonio and served as a counselor for the Career Camp program there.

“That was a wonderful experience because I was able to work alongside many of the trainers that had been there years before when I was a camper. Plus, I was able to gain a perspective of working with marine mammals vs. terrestrial animals.”

The following summer, after graduating from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas with a degree in animal behavior, Kasper returned to work as a counselor at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, another step toward her goal. After eight months of hard work and proving herself, Kasper got her dream job: working with the primates in Myombe Reserve, an exhibit featuring endangered gorillas and chimpanzees. “I have been here for almost two years and I am still loving every moment of it.”

Nicole Olson, a trainer at SeaWorld San Antonio, figured out in high school that camp would be her ticket to a career in animal training.

“I had done a lot of research, looking for ways to get involved with marine animals.” Olson attended three years of Career Camp at SeaWorld San Antonio during high school and between semesters at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. She was then hired as an apprentice at the park’s Shamu Stadium and eventually got a job at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Fla. working with dolphins and small land mammals for two years. Next, she transferred to the Viva! show at SeaWorld San Antonio (working with beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins) before landing her current job as a trainer at “The Cannery Row Caper,” a sea lion, otter and walrus show, also at SeaWorld San Antonio.

Camp was a big part of Olson’s preparation and inspiration for becoming a trainer. “It allows you to be more focused, to find out which area you’d like to concentrate on,” she says. Olson would like to study the effects of global warming on coral reefs and plans to pursue a graduate degree in marine science.

ROLE MODELS

Many of the top educators, trainers, veterinarians, and animal care specialists at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks are women.

At Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Lisa Harris is an assistant curator in the mammal section of the zoo department. She is responsible for the primates throughout the park, as well as the carnivores found in the Edge of Africa and Claw Island habitats. Another female role model at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is Laura Wittish, assistant curator of birds and reptiles. Wittish, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Bowling Green State University in Toledo, Ohio has worked with killer whales, dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions, walruses, otters and a wide variety of bird species throughout her 23-year career with the family of SeaWorld parks.

Based at SeaWorld San Diego is senior veterinarian Dr. Judy St. Leger, who is responsible for diagnostic evaluations investigating illness in animals for all of the SeaWorld parks, Discovery Cove in Orlando, Fla. and Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Dr. Beth Chittick, senior veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando, oversees the health and well-being of all the animals at SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove. In addition to diagnosis, treatment, research, preventative medical programs and nutrition, Chittick also disseminates information from scientific meetings and publications to help educate the animal staff in areas of health and husbandry.

At Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, a nonprofit marine research organization based in San Diego and Orlando, a number of the top researchers are women, including Dr. Ann Bowles, senior research biologist at the San Diego facility. Bowles has spent more than two decades studying the effects of human-made noise and disturbance on a wide range of species, including seals, sea lions, whales, birds, tortoises and sea turtles. Dr. Pamela Yochem, also based at the San Diego facility, has been working with satellite- linked instruments to document the migratory and foraging habits of a number of marine mammals, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The data collected from this study may be key to the species’ survival.

At the Florida location of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, women are leading the way in animal rescue research. Wendy Noke, who holds a master’s degree in biology, co-directs the HSWRI Marine Mammal Stranding Program in Florida. Megan Stolen, who has been with Hubbs-SeaWorld since 1999, serves as coordinator for stranded whales and dolphins along the beaches of east central Florida.

“All of these scientists, educators, counselors, trainers and animal care specialists are passionate about their work,” says SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Animal Ambassador Julie Scardina. “Through the camp programs, they get to share that passion with thousands of young people each year, many of whom go on to become scientists, veterinarians, field researchers, conservationists or teachers. But regardless of what path they choose, every camper takes with them a deep and lifelong appreciation for wildlife and the natural world.”

Camp programs are offered to youth of all ages at SeaWorld parks in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando, Fla.; Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla; and Discovery Cove in Orlando. For more information, visit http://swbg-adventurecamps.com/ or call (866) GO-TO-CAMP.

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