In the fall of 2013, I started my senior year as an Elementary Education major. Senior year is the year of your internship as a teacher in a classroom. My intern experience started off fairly similar to everyone else… full of excitement and joy around the students, yet while everyone else was figuring things out and getting more comfortable, I began to discover that the classroom did not seem to be a good fit for me. Slowly my teaching and planning started to suffer and I began to have anxiety problems surrounding school, because I could not quite figure out what direction to pursue. Luckily I had great professors to talk to and help me through this time. Dr. Barbara Purdum-Cassidy and Dr. Sandi Cooper spent lots of time with me, giving advice, providing encouragement, and working to explore other possibilities. My whole world shifted when one of them suggested the idea of Informal Education.

I spent the rest of the fall semester researching “informal education” (education in museums, aquariums, libraries, zoos, etc.) while my professors were looking into possible internships in Waco. Before we left for Christmas break, I had interviewed and agreed to do an internship at Cameron Park Zoo with the education department in the Spring 2014. During my time at Cameron Park Zoo I worked closely with the Education Curator, Connie Kassner. She taught me how to handle animals and gave me responsibilities with the care of the education animals. I helped update/ lead outreach programs and on grounds programs, I wrote new scavenger hunts, helped coordinate volunteers and also assisted in organizing events at the zoo. The outreach programs took up most of my mornings. A partner and I would take a group of the education animals to a school where we would present different lessons we had created and connected to TEKS before we would present the animals. I loved getting to see children react to the animals. It made the ideas and concepts we were talking about so much more meaningful and tangible. Students could actually see and feel the differences of reptiles and mammals rather than just talk about them or look at pictures. Cameron Park Zoo has several education programs and events throughout the year. Events such as National Amphibian Day, Bear Awareness, Big Cat Day and many others that spotlight different animals. Another event I participated in was the Poison Safety Safari, a collaborative event with the Poison Control Center, where visitors learn about poison hazards and venomous animals. These events are intended to add to visitors experience and education.

During my internship, I was able to take two classes in the Museum Studies program at Baylor– Museum Educational Programming and Introduction to Museums. I loved the opportunity to take these courses while working at the zoo, because many concepts overlapped and I was able to discover lots of connections. Connie and I would have lots of discussions that stemmed from ideas we learned in class and I was able to see how it differed in a zoo setting.

During the semester I was working at the zoo, I had the great opportunity to lead a group of Education students in a collaborative project with the Baylor Chamber. The Baylor Chamber is a group of students responsible for the bears on campus. They also lead presenations for area school children when they make a campus visit to see the bears. Chamber wanted to make their programming more educational and more marketable to teachers. My team took the previous information chamber presented to groups and wrote them into age/grade appropriate presentations. The project also included connecting TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) to the different presentations so that Chamber could market their presentations to schools as more relevant to the state standards.

Even though my work at Cameron Park Zoo has ended, my connections are still strong. I try to volunteer and help out with events as much as possible. I was able to help organize and participate in the Texas Aquarium and Zoo Educator conference in January 2015 at Cameron Park Zoo. There I got to meet and learn from informal educators all over the state of Texas.

I am currently a graduate student about to complete my Masters of Science in Education in the department of Curriculum and Instruction, with a cognate/specialization in informal education. With help from my professors, I was able to individualize my program to fit my area of study by taking several courses in the department of Museum Studies. The Curriculum and Instruction classes have been very easy to connect to museum education as well as connecting the Museum Studies courses to education. I believe Baylor University has provided me a well-rounded knowledge of informal education through the individuality of my degree program and the support of my professors.

My hope is that the Baylor School of Education and Museum Studies could partner to create an official program for students like me. Amazing professors who truly care about their students and their success have blessed me and helped me get to where I am. Without their guidance, I might not have graduated college or would not have the hopes of a future career.