"Unity’s dedication to conservation through sustainability science gives our graduates an edge."
Tiffany DeMell, Commissary keeper
“Unity’s dedication to conservation through sustainability science gives our graduates an edge.”
BS, Captive Wildlife Care and Education; Class of 2015
Palm Beach Zoo
West Palm Beach, Fla.
What is your current job title and your main responsibilities?
I am a Commissary Keeper at the Palm Beach Zoo in West Palm Beach, Fla. It is my job to prepare and help plan the diets for all of the animals we take care of at our zoo. We always follow USDA and AZA regulations, which means that a big part of my job is cleaning and disinfecting.
What was your path to getting the job you have now?
While still in school, I completed two internships: one at the Mill Mountain Zoo in Virginia and another at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. After graduating, I was a seasonal keeper at the Topeka Zoo and volunteered to work in the great apes department, as well. All of these jobs were with completely different species, ranging from snow leopards to gorillas to rainbow lorikeets. Knowing about the different species that I am preparing diets for helps me do a better job at keeping the animals happy and healthy. Though working with food instead of directly with animals may not be my dream job, it is a way for me to learn about a different side of my field and to focus on primate nutrition which will help me in graduate school where I plan to study Primatology after getting some work experience.
What do you love about the job?
I really love that my zoo is working hard to not only teach zoo guests about conservation and sustainable living, but also that we practice what we preach. One of the first things I did after getting this job was join the Green Team, which encourages different teams of zoo staff to decrease their carbon footprints by carpooling or biking to work, along with a lot of other things. I am also a huge fan of primates, so I really enjoy how many monkey species we have at our zoo and being able to continue to learn about them. Another thing I love about this position is that I’m currently getting trained on education animal training for our zoo events. Yesterday I got to learn about harnessing an opossum and took a New Guinea singing dog on a walk. How cool is that?
What made you want to come to Unity? Were those expectations realized by the time you graduated?
I chose Unity because I want to make a positive difference in our world, as cheesy as that sounds. Unity’s dedication to conservation through sustainability science gives our graduates an edge. Knowing about different ways to be more sustainable in my professional life is one of the reasons I was hired at this incredible zoo. After completing my four years at Unity, it is automatic to do things like recycle cans and compost food scraps. It isn’t something that I have to think about. By far my favorite class at Unity was the Enrichment and Exhibit Design course, which I loved so much that I applied and became the class’ project assistant. The class teaches students to repurpose things around them and to think “outside the box” to find new ways to excite and engage animals living in captivity. I think that is exciting. It’s basically upscaling items to make toys. Who wouldn’t love that?
How would you describe your transition from college to the working world, and what advice would you give fellow or future Unity alums?
I’ll be honest, my transition wasn’t easy. It’s a frustrating process and the zoo field is a frustrating one to get into. My advice to future alums is to keep trying and not to give up. I must have applied for more than 100 positions before getting this one, but when I finally did, it was worth it. Also: take advantage of the resources around you at Unity. I still am emailing professors and the Career Resource Center to help make me a better employee. Get involved through work study, projects, and independent studies outside of the normal coursework. You have to give yourself an edge, show future employers that you want to learn, and that you will take your education into your own hands. Go to the CRC and take advantage of the incredible team there that will help you with applications, resumes, cover letters, and figuring out your future plans. And take advantage of the snow. You might not think so during the 30-below-zero days and blizzards, but living on a sunny beach in Florida really teaches you to appreciate the little things!