Twelfth-graders in Hughes STEM High School’s Zoo Academy program began spring break with a special lunch guest – a renowned ecologist who is studying elephant conservation in southeastern Africa.
Dominique Goncalves, manager of the Elephant Ecology Project in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, helped kick off the Zoo Academy’s Barrows Conservation Lecture Series, which gives students an opportunity to learn from industry experts and gain insight into careers in environmental science, animal care, and nature and wildlife conservation.
During her visit to the Zoo Academy, Goncalves, a fellow with the National Geographic Society, shared stories over pizza. Students took turns asking questions about her elephant project, which they studied during the first half of the school year.
One senior asked how she could make an impact on the Gorongosa project, even though she couldn’t physically help in the field.
“Oh, you can come!” Goncalves replied with a laugh. “But it won’t be a safari. We will put you to work.”
In addition to African elephants, Goncalves taught students about Pygmy chameleons and pangolins, which she also studies. But the students weren’t the only ones learning – several offered up thoughts on how to improve the symbiotic relationship between the people of Gorongosa and the native wildlife.
Goncalves encouraged the students to not accept what is wrong, and to never wait for success to find them.
“Don’t wait for things to happen,” Goncalves shared with the seniors. “It doesn’t work that way. Things can change, and you can change them.”
The Zoo Academy is the only high school program in the country that pairs students with zoo professionals for daily, hands-on work experience, allowing those students to earn vocational certifications. The program is open to 11th- and 12th-graders. Students spend half of the day in classroom studies and the remainder of the day training at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.