This fall, students in Maria Wallace’s science education class at the University of Southern Mississippi have a unique opportunity to put their teaching to the test and learn about science in its many exotic forms. .
Through a partnership with the Hattiesburg Zoo, students served as zoo guides throughout the semester, interacting and educating guests about the importance of wildlife conservation.
Students regularly attend the zoo to occupy the educational exhibits that are placed around the zoo during visiting hours, with each exhibit containing different information regarding the environment and the various animals commonly seen at the zoo.
When zoo visitors stop at tables, USM students share information about the exhibits, allowing them to build on their scientific knowledge and gain experience by educating and interacting with young people of all ages and learning abilities. As part of their coursework, students also develop a standards-based lesson plan aligned with the experiences offered by the docent program.
This service learning opportunity has mutual benefits for students at USM and the Hattiesburg Zoo. Students have gained valuable practical experience to prepare them for their future careers, and the zoo has an increased number of volunteers to raise awareness about wildlife conservation.
Emma Atwood and Natalie Hudson, students in Wallace’s class, say the experience has taught them how to communicate with people of various ages and backgrounds.
Hudson adds that she is grateful “not only to learn with different age groups, but also to be able to learn to teach outside of a classroom”.
Gabby Howe, education programs coordinator for the Hattiesburg Zoo, sees great potential for the zoo’s collaboration with Wallace and his students.
“(This collaboration) conveys one of our highest educational values, which is to foster public appreciation, respect and knowledge of nature and the importance of wildlife conservation,” said Howe. “Guides not only help the Hattiesburg Zoo in our mission, but also play an important role in advocating for wildlife conservation. ”
Wallace’s class is offered at the Center for Science & Mathematics Education at the College of Arts and Sciences at USM.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is getting more students to seek career opportunities in science fields,” said Chris Winstead, dean of USM College of Arts and Sciences. “This collaborative effort with the Hattiesburg Zoo is a great opportunity for our future professional science educators to develop their experience and abilities by sharing their scientific interests with people of varying backgrounds and ages. We are delighted to be a part of this partnership with the Hattiesburg Zoo. ”
The course is one of several service learning courses offered at the University of Southern Mississippi. A list of the service learning courses offered at USM can be found on the Center for Community Engagement website at usm.edu/cce.