It was impressive in itself that the stars aligned for Caitlin Bloomer to get her opportunity as a conservation education intern at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, but then she capitalized on the experience to gain clarity in her professional future.
The native of Downpatrick, Northern Ireland was at Fossil Rim from July 3 to Nov. 16.
“I was visiting Texas in January and came down to Fossil Rim; I thought it was pretty cool,” Bloomer said. “My boyfriend, who I met at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland while we were both studying biology, is from Fort Worth. I came over to visit him, and he thought Fossil Rim was a perfect place to go for two people interested in biology.
“I’d enjoyed my day here, so I was looking at the website and discovered they have internships. I was finishing up university in June, so it seemed pretty perfect to apply.”
Over the course of four-and-a-half months, Bloomer embraced the bevy of education-related opportunities that arose.
“I wasn’t expecting to take to this so easily,” she said. “I have really loved teaching while I’ve been over here. We’ve gone to a wide variety of places through outreach programs, plus we’ve done camps, tours and worked with the ambassador animals.”
She pointed to some Fossil Rim moments that have remained at the forefront of her mind.
“First, I think of when we heard a radio call that the giraffe we now call ‘Cornelius’ was about to be born,” Bloomer said. “So, we took a vehicle down and saw the moment he was actually born in the pasture, which was really awesome. Also, I wrote my own education program – ‘Lorax: The Sequel’ – and saw it implemented with a group of Girl Scouts who really took to it. It was an exciting moment of pride to see them improvising off of something I created.
“We went to do outreach at Acton Elementary where we took our Halloween moon crab. A boy came up to us at the end and said ‘I feel really special that I got to see that crab today.’ It was the sweetest moment and an example of what makes teaching really worth it.”
As it turns out, her Irish accent came in handy sometimes.
“Some little kids don’t notice it at all, but some ask me straightaway where I’m from,” she said. “I’ve found that it really helps to grab their attention, especially when you are speaking in front of a classroom. Whenever you are saying things in a weird accent, all of the sudden they are listening a little bit closer. You can definitely use it to your advantage.”
Bloomer pointed out some of the animals she had become especially fond of.
“In the park, my favorite species is the waterbuck, because they have little heart-shaped noses and teddy bear ears; I think they are the cutest things to ever walk the planet,” she said. “In terms of the ambassador animals, I have two favorites. ‘Alastor’ the Eastern box turtle – I invested so much time trying to feed him to make sure he gained weight; it turns out he loves blueberries. We recently got a barred tiger salamander who has a big personality for a little dude and is a lot of fun.”
The recent college grad appreciated the staff for helping her build a foundation of factual Fossil Rim information so she could do the same for children inside and outside the facility.
“Cassidy McDonald and Andrew Bullard are the people I worked closest with in the education department, and they were wonderfully supportive to help me grow as an educator and deal with the stresses that come with it,” Bloomer said. “The Children’s Animal Center staff, Kristina (Borgstrom) and Amber (Wiedeman), are both wonderful. I’d never had animal care experience before, so it was a learning process to look after the ambassador animals – a lot of fun that I wasn’t expecting during an education internship. That’s what makes Fossil Rim unique is you get to do a bit of everything.”
Looking down the road, Bloomer seems to have found her calling.
“I would love to come back and work at Fossil Rim if that is a possibility; that would be the dream, to educate somewhere as cool as this,” she said. “This internship made me realize I do want to stay in education, particularly in the animal field. I’ve always said I wanted to be an outdoor educator, teach activities and do more exciting things than just sit in a classroom; this was my intro to environmental education.”
On that note, she learned how to tackle the challenge of holding a child’s attention.
“One of the biggest things is absolutely thinking on your feet,” she said. “Whenever you are teaching a class with young kids, you never know what is going to happen. If they want to know about something that isn’t necessarily the focus of the class, you have to be able to teach wherever their interests lie, because they are like little sponges and they’ll soak it all up. Also, being really enthusiastic is important, especially when you are teaching about environmental issues.
“You are talking about habitat loss and endangered species, so it can be easy for your class to turn negative, but you need to teach the students that there is hope and there are things they can do in their own lives to make a difference. Plus, if you are not excited, the kids are not going to be excited.”
Her efforts for the education department were not lost on the staff.
“Caitlin was a great intern for us here at Fossil Rim, and we really enjoyed having her,” said Assistant Director of Education James Morgan. “We see anywhere from 2-6 interns every year come through here and it a great experience to see them flourish, as well as to learn what they enjoy doing and what they may not enjoy. Sometimes we get interns who find that they don’t enjoy working in education or with the public, but Caitlin did an amazing job while she was here. We wish her the best of luck in the future, whether that be with Fossil Rim if an opportunity arises, or with another institution.”
If someone is contemplating jumping into the conservation education intern experience, Bloomer would tell them to take the leap.
“It is a really neat internship in the variety of experience you get,” she said. “You don’t just teach one type of class or one topic, you teach about many things in a variety of places using a variety of tools. The amount of experience you get in a relatively short time is not like anywhere else I’ve known.”
Many people may think of feeding animals when Fossil Rim comes to mind, but Bloomer hopes they will dig deeper.
“Fossil Rim is a lot more than just a safari,” she said. “There is a lot of scientific research going on here with wildlife programs that are running internationally. Even within the education department, animals are only part of the environmental topics to explore.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate