Teens Peek into Careers

This story ran in the July 2008 issue of the Zoological Society’s newsletter, Wild Things.

Teens peek into careers

In 2008, teen Zoo Priders Caitlin Braun, Alyssa Zopfi and Christie Stevenson volunteered at the Zoo.

Aspiring marine biologist Caitlin Braun, 17, of Thiensville, gets a sneak peek into her career through volunteering at the Zoo. “I’ve always wanted to work at the Zoo,” she says. Caitlin is among 42 teens in Zoo Pride, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s (ZSM’s) volunteer auxiliary. Her passion for wildlife also propelled her to take up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with her school, Homestead High. “In summer, I’m going on a trip to Costa Rica to be in the rain forest for a week,” Caitlin says. “I want to expand my knowledge of what’s out there other than the urban world we live in.”

A year-long member of Zoo Pride, Caitlin was nervous about working with older volunteers (teens make up only about 7% of Zoo Pride). But older Zoo Priders always greet her with a smiling face. “They treat you like another person, not like a kid. It’s like working with my buddies,” Caitlin says. Alyssa Zopfi, 18, a Zoo Pride member since 2005, enjoys spending time with her fellow volunteers. “Everybody is so welcoming, and you just get along with everybody,” says Alyssa, a Wauwatosa East senior. “It’s a great way to [get to] know people.”

If they’re looking into a career with animals, younger Zoo Priders benefit from behind-the-scenes Zoo knowledge. A year-long Zoo Pride member, Christie Stevenson, 16, of Waukesha, recalls a Zoo Pride course on the octopus. She watched the octopus crawl out of its tank, get its food and then return to its tank, not something typical zoogoers see. Christie, a sophomore at Waukesha South, wants to be a zookeeper with primates or birds. “Zoo Pride helps me quench my thirst for wanting to know more about animals,” she says. Alyssa, who also wants to be a zookeeper, likes the chance to learn about a possible career.

All three girls agree Zoo Pride is not only educational, but also fun. For Zoo events, they can dress up as costumed characters, such as bunnies for Egg Day. “It’s really fun to goof around and to make sure everyone has a good time,” Caitlin says. With animal enrichment, another Zoo Pride activity, Christie helps to create food games for animals to keep them active. For the big cats, she puts meat in boxes so they must work to eat like they would in the wild. For otters, she freezes their food like popsicles so it takes them longer to eat. Since joining Zoo Pride, these teenagers realize how important volunteers are to the Zoo. During training, Caitlin learned Zoo Pride conducts fund-raisers to improve the animals’ enclosures. “The progress over the past 50 years is amazing,” she says. “It makes me feel good to be part of the group for when my own kids go to the Zoo.”

Meet other volunteers here.