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Drake is offering a new degree in zoo and conservation science

Drake zoo students
Michael J Renner
Students in Drake's zoo and conservation science concentration visit with giraffes at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines.

Starting this fall, students at Drake University will be able to study under a new zoo and conservation science degree. There’s been a similar curriculum concentration for Drake students to tack onto their majors since 2015.

The university recently approved expanding it to a full degree. Michael Renner is a professor of biology, psychology and environmental studies at Drake. He said they have about 30 students in the concentration, and some students even petitioned the university to make it their major.

Now as a full degree, the program will prepare students to take on entry-level jobs in zoos, especially when zoo directors report that most applicants for these roles are unqualified, Renner said.

"You need to know something about biological mechanisms of the transmission of disease, microbiology, physiology, you need to know something about how animals fit into the world. So that would be ecology and organisms, scale biology, not looking at the parts, but looking at the whole critter, and you need to know something about behavior," he said.

The program is partnering with Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines and students will spend time at the zoo through many of the degree’s classes.

Renner said with the full degree, students will not only learn about animals, but also take a management course so they can grow their careers beyond entry level.

"Students do two internships before they graduate, and that's kind of a differentiating factor from other places where a student might be able to pick up an internship. They're very competitive in the zoo world," he said. "It's kind of a mark of the quality of the program that our students are so successful and competing for internships, and by the time they graduate having had two, then they're very competitive for the jobs."

Renner said well-trained zoo workers make zoos better places for animals to receive conservation and care. Students can sign up for the major starting this fall.

Catherine Wheeler was Iowa Public Radio's All Things Considered host and a reporter from 2021 to 2023.