LINCOLN PARK — For two weeks, 10 Chicago high schoolers got the chance to take over the behind-the-scenes jobs at the Lincoln Park Zoo including studying camel droppings in the zoo's "poop lab."
The program is new to the zoo this year thanks to a $3 million grant, and gave many of the students their first look at life in the working world.
For Jerqwana Collins, an 18-year-old West Side resident, the week working in event planning at the zoo was unlike anything she had experienced before.
During the week, Collins, who attends Collins Academy High School in North Lawndale, had a chance to work on plans for a ice rink that the zoo hopes to create this winter and even helped a bride searching for a wedding space.
“At first I was nervous, but then I watched what my shadow did,” Collins said. "I thought, I can actually follow my dreams and do this."
Collins is headed to the University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall, and said the week at the zoo has been an inspiration for her future plans.
Other students worked in the zoo’s public relations department, as biologists and educational outreach coordinators.
Jordan Harrison, a student at Providence Saint Mel in East Garfield Park, was tasked with precisely measuring out feces from Scooter the camel Wednesday afternoon.
It is serious scientific business at the zoo.
The tests can measure stress levels in the animals as well as reproductive levels and nutrient levels.
It was an eye-opening experience to see how the zoo and it’s 300 employees operate, said Jillian Lepak, a 16-year-old Northside College Prep student.
“You can still have the fun of working at the zoo while working behind the scenes,” she said.
The program is part of the zoo’s new Hurvis Center for Learning Innovation and Collaboration, which was started this year.
The goals of the center include increasing youth awareness of science careers, engaging the community in zoo research work and developing globally relevant models of learning.
During the school year, the students will head back to the zoo once a month to participate in workshops and check in with their mentors.
“Many people don’t realize we’ve got more than 300 employees making this happen,” said Leah Melber, senior director of the Hurvis Center. “It’s exciting to see how excited they are for so many different jobs.”