A small university in rural West Virginia might seem like an unlikely place to house a Zoo Science major. But at West Liberty University, in the state's northern panhandle, students can train to be zookeepers and wildlife conservation researchers while interacting with animals on campus.
Joe Greathouse, West Liberty Assistant Professor of Biology and director of the Oglebay Good Zoo director, said the partnership between these two institutions makes this school’s program distinctive.
“There are only four zoo science majors in the country, and we’re the only one that’s associated with an [Association of Zoos and Aquariums] accredited institution,” he said, referring to the organization that specializes in the advancement of zoos and aquariums. “Students during their internships are going to learn from animal keepers, learn from the animal curator, [and] learn from me.”
West Liberty University started offering the major, focused on taking care of animals in human care and in the wild, in 2015. Students take charge in almost all aspects of the process from cleaning habitats, to feeding animals and even rearing eggs as a trial for saving endangered species.
“Having the animals here and on campus is great because they’re in the building you have classes in, and they’re close, and you form a little bit of a bond with them,” said Zoo Science student Coleen Hosselton.
The major aims to cultivates professionals like zookeepers and wildlife conservation researchers. Karen Kettler, chair of the department of science and math at West Liberty, said she hopes graduates will be able to go on to contribute to wildlife needs in West Virginia.
“We want people to be educated here, and to stay here, and to practice what they’ve learned here. The need for effective conservation practice in this state is essential for not only maintaining the biodiversity that we have, but also improving the biodiversity that we have,” she said.
Zac Loughman, Zoo Science Coordinator and Associate Professor of Biology at West Liberty, said West Virginians helped to design the curriculum.
“We know what those students want because we were them," he said. " That’s why it was so important to us to make sure this wasn’t a go-to-class-take-a-test kind of major.”