Columbian Park Zoo offers a variety of exciting internship opportunities for current college students or recent graduates. All academic majors are encouraged to apply.
Internship Focus Areas (varies seasonally):
Seasons and Time Commitments:
- Internships: How do they work?
- Animal Care Focus Areas
- Education Focus Areas
How does it work?
Candidates selected into the internship program are assigned a focus area based on where their skills and availability best fit. Interns are paired with a staff mentor who will help guide them through the onboarding and training process and provide advice and feedback as they gain skills. Interns begin working alongside qualified staff with the goal of attaining a level of competence in their focus area to be able to work independently by the conclusion of the internship.
What does an intern do every day?
That depends on what focus the intern is assigned to, and can vary a bit depending on their work schedule. For example, there are some routine tasks that happen in the mornings so afternoon interns may not have the exact same experiences as morning interns. Likewise, interns working in animal care will have different experiences than those working in education or other roles, but we are all working together to meet our common Zoo mission! There are ample opportunities to learn more about how the puzzle pieces come together through observation, teamwork, and discussions with mentoring staff!
Click the tabs for a brief sample of things an intern in each focus area may experience on a given day:
Are there cross-training opportunities?
Potentially. There is a lot to learn in a short amount of time, so internships are structured so as to focus on a single area with the goal of proficiency, then mastery of that area. We do permit interns to shadow in other areas, provided their attendance and performance is progressing satisfactorily. Limited cross-training may be provided at the Zoo’s discretion, but should not be expected. However, as a small facility with a high degree of integration, interns can expect a significant amount of exposure to the goings-on of other areas and have ample opportunities to gain big picture perspectives from their mentors and other staff. We believe an internship will give back what you put into it. Approach it with a curious mind, intent to understand both your role and how it fits into the bigger picture, and ask lots of questions and you are bound to learn a great deal during your time here. For those interested in multiple diverse internship focus areas, we do consider interns who reapply for a second internship in a different area in subsequent semesters.
Animal Care: Ambassador Collection
These interns provide the daily husbandry for the animals used in education programs. This includes a large variety of exotic and domestic animals and may include lizards, snakes, turtle/tortoise, small birds of prey, small mammals (ex. armadillo, opossum, sloth, wallaby, “pocket pets”, etc), parrots, amphibians, and terrestrial invertebrates. Daily responsibilities include things like enclosure cleaning and maintenance, preparing and feeding out diets, enrichment, health inspections, delivery of routine daily medications, weighing, nail trims/grooming, and working with established trained behaviors. An average day will also include general housekeeping tasks such as sweeping, dishes, laundry, organization of supplies, and the utilization of various record-keeping systems. During the Zoo’s open season (April-October) interns will also assist with monitoring our visitor immersion and contact areas (Family Farm, Butterfly Garden and Wallaby Walkabout) and may occasionally conduct informal keeper chats. Although this internship focuses on animal care, public interaction is a routine and regular component of all Zoo positions and should be expected.
Animal Care: Australia/Americas Exhibits
These interns provide daily care for the animals exhibited in our Australia and Americas area, which may include wallabies, New Guinea singing dog, emu, North American river otter, prairie dog, birds of prey, and various bird species. Daily responsibilities include things like preparing the outdoor exhibit area for daily use, shifting animals onto/off of exhibit as scheduled, cleaning and disinfection of interior holding areas, preparing and delivering animal diets, health inspections, enrichment and behavioral observation. An average day will also include general housekeeping tasks such as sweeping, dishes, laundry, organization of supplies, and the utilization of various record-keeping systems. During the Zoo’s open season (April-October) interns will also assist with monitoring our visitor immersion and contact areas (Family Farm, Butterfly Garden and Wallaby Walkabout) and may occasionally conduct informal keeper chats. Although this internship focuses on animal care, public interaction is a routine and regular component of all Zoo positions and should be expected.
Animal Care: Family Farm
This internship provides daily care for a variety of domestic species housed in our Family Farm exhibit and contact area, which may include llama, goats, pig, and mini horse. Daily responsibilities include stall cleaning, contact yard maintenance, animal diet preparation and delivery, grooming/weighing, exercising animals including halter walks around grounds, enrichment, and behavioral observations. Interns may also assist with seasonal tasks related to goat breeding and kidding, including baby goat health assessments and supportive care. These interns serve as a contact yard attendant for a portion of every shift, and are responsible for monitoring animal and visitor behavior and engaging with guests. Farm interns may also supervise and direct volunteers, including teen volunteers. An average day will also include general housekeeping tasks such as sweeping, dishes, laundry, organization of supplies, and the utilization of various record-keeping systems.
Click here to view the full position description for our animal care internships.
Education: Animal Handling & Programs
These interns work hands-on with Animal Ambassadors, alongside our professional educators, to deliver informal presentations highlighting wildlife conservation messages. Interns in this area are trained on safe and appropriate animal handling techniques with a core set of Ambassador animals (see Animal Care: Ambassador Collection for a sample of animals that serve in this role.) Daily responsibilities include things like socialization, exercise and grooming of Ambassador animals, preparation of learning materials, planning short lessons and interpretive chats, delivering informal talks to audiences of various ages and in various on-site settings (field trips, birthday parties, camps, youth classes, tours, etc), traveling offsite to present animals at local venues (schools, daycares, retirement facilities and community groups), ensuring a safe and inclusive learning environment, behavioral observations, and working with established trained animal plans. An average day will also include general housekeeping tasks such as sweeping, dishes, laundry, organization of supplies, disinfection of travel carriers and animal presentation tools, and the utilization of various record-keeping systems. During the Zoo’s open season (April-October) interns will also assist with monitoring our visitor immersion and contact areas (Family Farm, Butterfly Garden and Wallaby Walkabout). Interpretive communication training is provided. A high level of public engagement should be expected, along with hands-on experiences with a wide variety of species. Although this internship focuses on the programmatic aspects of the zoo, some basic husbandry tasks, such as diet delivery and cleaning up animal waste should also be expected.
Education: Camp Counselor
These interns assist with our popular summer Zoo Camp program, and work directly with children attending week long day camp sessions. Camps are structured and educational, rich in STEM activities, and include multiple encounters with live Animal Ambassadors every day. Zoo Camps are team taught with a collaborative work environment. Interns in this area will assist the lead camp teacher in delivering educational content by helping to prepare and facilitate science activities, crafts, games, etc and by providing support with classroom management. Camp interns are trained to handle and present a variety of Animal Ambassadors. Interpretive communication training is also provided. Interns will also assist with developing and delivering short, engaging activities and thematic components to complement the lead teacher’s lesson plan. What sets our camps apart is a strong focus on interpretive theming, which provides a narrative thread throughout each camp week, enhancing learning and creating a unique and fun camp environment. Interns in this area can expect to gain skills in interpretive communication, creative lesson design, animal handling, and working with youth ages 5-14. Although this internship focuses on the summer camp program, interns in this area will also have opportunities to observe or assist with other types of zoo education programming, camp support duties, animal socialization and training activities, limited animal husbandry functions, and/or administrative tasks, as need and interest determine.
Education: Instructional Design and Lesson Planning
These interns work with our senior educators to develop engaging activities and structured lessons to deploy in a variety of non-formal zoo education programs, such as youth classes, camps, interpretive talks, interactive games, and small-scale stage demonstrations. Focusing mainly on life sciences and conservation topics, these lessons may involve a variety of strategies (games, crafts, multimedia, STEM activities, etc) and may include live animals or animal artifacts, with the goal of fostering connections between our audiences and the Zoo’s resources. Responsibilities include things like utilizing a variety of print and digital resources to research topics and learning strategies, working with established program topics and goals to determine lesson objectives and desired outcomes, developing lesson plans, creating idea files, incorporating creative thematic elements into youth camps, preparing instructional materials (craft samples, powerpoints, worksheets, etc), and developing teacher resource materials. Interpretive communications training is provided. Although animal handling is not a focus of this internship position, some animal handling training may be provided. Likewise, Instructional Design interns may also assist with program presentation or other interpretive communication opportunities as need and interest determine.
Education: Social Media Communications
These interns work with our Education and Marketing Department leaders to develop and implement the Zoo’s weekly social media plan. Social media communications involve multiple functions, including public education on wildlife and conservation issues, fostering emotional connections to the Zoo, its animal residents, mission and purpose, community-building, and the promotion of Zoo attendance, programs, special events, and products. Responsibilities include social media content creation (caption writing, photography, graphics design, reels, etc), research of trends, strategizing posts, developing campaigns, scheduling posts, monitoring public engagement, and tracking analytics. An understanding of the zoo industry’s unique PR challenges is essential for success, and training will be provided. Interns may also assist with other communications and marketing initiatives such as electronic newsletter creation and/or print material creation. Although animal handling is not a focus of this internship position, some animal handling training may be provided. Likewise, Social Media interns may also assist with program presentation or other interpretive communication opportunities as need and interest determine.
Click here to view the full position description for our education internships.
Click here to view the full position description for our social media internships.
These interns work seasonally to prepare and maintain the Zoo’s botanical collection and landscaping, including green spaces, decorative plantings, in-exhibit vegetation, vegetable garden, and Butterfly Garden Party exhibit. Responsibilities include watering, weeding, pruning, application of mulch/rock/gravel, pathway maintenance and inspection of patron barriers, identification and collection of browse for animal consumption/use, cultivation and harvest of plants grown on-site for animal diets, and maintenance of the botanical collections within the Butterfly Garden Party exhibit in accordance with governmental regulations. An average day will also include some general housekeeping, grounds keeping and light maintenance tasks, and may include the use of power tools. Although public communication is not a focus of this internship, some public engagement including impromptu chats with guests, wayfinding and general customer service is expected. Interns should be prepared to work primarily outdoors in various weather conditions, with periodic desk work or computer-based tasks included. Exposure to Zoo animals and resident wildlife should also be expected.