Being a CYT Intern

Being able to intern at the Virginia Zoo under Kristine Kastenbaum, the Volunteer Coordinator, and Nicole Miller, the Community Outreach Coordinator, for the Conservation Youth Team was one of the best opportunities I have been fortunate to have. The Conservation Youth Team is an incredible program that encompasses youth development, conservation, volunteer work around the Virginia Zoo and the community, and bond formation between the teens and their groups. The program truly focuses on the development and growth of these teenagers in a way no program I have seen before has.

As the Conservation Youth Team Intern I assisted in the preparation of materials, biological artifacts, and trainings for the week. I also was charged with documenting the summer as the “CYT Paparazzi” and photographed the impressive, and usually hilarious, interactions of our teens. Being the photographer allowed me to spend a considerable amount of time with each of the CYT groups. In order to see the connections this program made, you would really have to become a part of it. The effort and dedication of these teens can be told but in order to experience the bond that formed between each of them, as well as the staff at the Virginia Zoo, you would need to speak to one first hand. The joy, excitement, and compassion these teenagers brought to the 2017 summer was enough to bring tears to our eyes at the last day of volunteering.

My journey at the Virginia Zoo began four years ago when I became a Junior Docent. I loved volunteering at the Virginia Zoo because of the people I got to interact with and the animals that I was able to gawk at while working. Once I graduated from high school, I moved into the adult docent program and assisted in as many education events as I could. As a Biology major at Old Dominion University and prospective future zoo keeper, I jumped at the opportunity of getting involved with the zoo through internships so I applied for the education internship as soon as it became available. Unfortunately, the program would only be open to certain students so I was unable to become the education intern; however, our volunteer coordinator Kristine Kastenbaum saw my interest in interning and offered me the position as the Conservation Youth Team Intern. Since this was the first year having an intern for this program neither I nor the zoo staff knew what to expect. Though I did not know what I would be doing, what I got out of it was amazing. I was able to connect with these future leaders, as well as grow in knowledge and public speaking skills. As the intern, I was able to experience the best parts of each group by trail hosting with our Guide Track CYT’s and using biological artifacts one day and have snack before a behind the scenes adventure with our Camp Track CYT’s and Safari campers the next.

While I enjoyed the junior docent program, the Conservation Youth Team was a team in the sense that each person relied on each other, trusted each other, and formed connections with their fellow volunteers. Each day the group would begin with a team building game and that formed bonds tighter and faster than I thought possible among teenage strangers.

Becoming involved in the Virginia Zoo’s volunteer program opened so many doors for me, ranging from amazing events and adventures to internship opportunities at various institutions. Similarly, interning at the Virginia Zoo opened an awesome door that led to employment as an Education Instructor, putting me one step closer to my dream.

Everything about biology fascinates me and I have dreamed of becoming a zoo keeper or an environmental researcher for years so when my mother saw an opening for volunteers at the Virginia Zoo she had me apply. I owe all of my accomplishments to her and my father because their encouragement and support is what helped me access these incredible opportunities. I am also grateful to Kristine Kastenbaum for giving me the opportunity to intern at the Virginia Zoo and Nicole Miller and Kelsie Myers for the opportunity to work in their education department. I look forward to many more adventures at the Virginia Zoo and encourage everyone to become involved in conservation here.