Shaping the next generation of scientists and conservationist is the long term goal of zoological institutions across the country. Within our Brookfield AAZK membership we are lucky to have an outstanding member of the millennial generation . . . Erin Shattuck.
Erin is a lifelong Oak Park, Illinois native that was introduced to Brookfield Zoo at a very young age by her parents. Her mother made sure that Erin, her older sibling Kelsey and younger brother Drew visited the zoo about once a week. Those experiences molded a young girl to become the conservationist, scientist, and animal enthusiast of today.
Ever since she was a little girl, Erin wanted to be a dolphin trainer. “I was laser-focused and never deviated from this dream.” During her freshman year of high school, she joined the then named “Youth Volunteer Program (YVC)” at Brookfield Zoo to help further her experience with dolphins and assist her in maintaining her goal. She did however find there was an unexpected bonus to her participation. She formed a “much greater appreciation and passion for working with other animals.”
“My experience in YVC (and Scholars) has been the single greatest thing I have ever done in my life.” And Erin gave back to the program as much as she got by devoting over 1,500 hours in her four years. She was up to the challenge for any task from Boo at the Zoo, Zoo Run Run, Breakfast with Santa, Holiday Magic (loved being the costumed characters), The Whirl, Ape Awareness, data entry of the marketing department, working in Hamill Family Play Zoo, leading tours, and anything else she that would come her way. She found that she fell in love with educating the guests that visited the zoo not only about the animals, but also about the plight of their wild relatives. All this while “making lifelong friends and countless memories.”
After the first year of her volunteer service she was accepted into the Science Track program. This experience gave her an overview of how the zoo functions behind the scenes. She was able to attend lectures, go on tours of most areas, and conduct an independent research project on . . . guess what . . . dolphins!
In her second year on the Science Track she was permitted to work with a specific department working hands on with the animals and conducting additional research projects. Her first choice of the dolphins was unavailable, however she was assigned to the hoof stock department for an entire year. Here she assisted with a project involving Inga the Blue Duiker. When the Seven Seas position opened up, she was able to join that group and started a project making dentition records for each of the adult dolphins. The two experiences were successful in providing her with a new insight about the zoo. “I saw how differently each department ran, and absolutely enjoyed every single second of both experiences.
Once her two years on the YVC Science track were over she contacted both of her mentors and inquired if she could assist with any projects. Hoof stock took her on for another year where she was mentored by Mary Schollhamer, Carrie Jung, and Bill Steele. Under their tutelage she logged in enrichment and ethogram data in addition to sifting through old data files of animal weights from the 1980’s. Every job advancing her knowledge of animals and animal behavior.
During her 4 years she was able to attend numerous lectures, conferences, workshops and symposiums, helped with animal observations, had a say in naming one of the zoos baby sloth bears, and much more. One of her favorite memories however, involved assisting at the Whirl (Chicago Zoological Society’s Annual Fund Raiser) her second year. Having been the top hour earner for the year her supervisor selected her to work the Whirl. Her job was to check off names of the people who were able to meet the Cheetah for a photo session. After striking up a conversation with Cindy Zeigler, Cindy told Erin to go and have her picture taken with the Cheetah and she would check off the names in her absence. As Erin explains, “So I walk in the room where the Cheetah is and run into Dr. Strahl and we get to talking and as I’m about to get a pic (sic), Stuart asks if I want him in the photo. What kind of question is that? So obviously I said yes and my life was complete.” Lessons learned? Hard work does pay off and talking to people and building connections is beneficial.
At Oak Park River Forest High School (OFRFHS) Erin maintained high academic success. She even took Swahili as an independent study throughout her senior year after having 4 years of Latin under her belt. She admits it was partly because she wanted to, and partly because her older sibling Kelsey is fluent in 3 languages (English, Hindi & Japanese). Aah yes . . . sibling rivalry!
While attending OPRFHS Erin was a member of “Best Buddies”, which is an organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). She was Vice President of the OPRFHS chapter last year. This involvement (since she was in 7th grade) has reformulated her career goals to not only becoming a marine mammal trainer, but her ultimate dream job “is to become a marine mammal trainer in the Midwest to develop a therapy program for kids with IDD.”
As a recent honors graduate of Oak Park River Forest High School, Erin will continue her studies in the fall of 2015 at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. There she will start by majoring in Zoology and continue her study of Swahili. In her second year she will also add either a Major or Minor in Psychology.
So why did Erin join Brookfield AAZK. Well, Bill Steele, our Brookfield AAZK president, was her mentor in the hoof stock area. He took her to a meeting on one of the days she was volunteering at the zoo. She was impressed with the meeting which “was so different from any meetings I had run for High School clubs and it was so fun to be a part of a group who are just as passionate about animals as I am and are doing something about it”. It was not too long after her experience at an AAZK meeting that Erin and her father ran into Bill at one of the Brookfield Zoo lectures. Erin’s father spoke with Bill and later asked Erin if she wanted to join and she said yes. She has been a member now for two years. Her favorite event so far is the Ringling Brothers Circus behind the scenes tour. “Not only because I was within centimeters of elephants, but because it really put into perspective how great of care the animals receive. So many people bash on the circus (I was not a huge fan) and then to see what really goes on, plus the circus is just awesome.”
So what is up next for Erin? Well she is about to embark on a 6 week trip to Africa. Starting in Rwanda, she will visit the child she has been sponsoring for two years through Compassion International in Kigali. Her final and lengthiest stop will be in Zimbabwe as a volunteer at the Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage. At Chipangali she will work with the animals that call the orphanage home. We are going to be lucky enough to follow along with her on this wonderful mission. Erin will be checking in periodically with news and photos from Africa and we will be posting those pictures and sharing her stories and experiences. We cannot wait to begin to follow along with her on this very special journey.