Caring for sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals in need is often the most visible aspect of our work that the public is able to see and understand. We are a hospital for native wildlife, after all! Equally as important as caring for wildlife, though, is our mission of “teaching the world to care for and care about wildlife and the environment”. One way we’re able to achieve that mission is through professional training opportunities – such as the internship and externship programs offered within the veterinary, rehabilitation, and outreach departments.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the outreach department’s externs experienced a somewhat “typical” day-to-day experience during their time with us: learning about native wildlife, creating written content for the website, working with non-releasable education ambassadors, and presenting in-person educational programs – lots of them – here at the Center and off-site at schools, festivals, and libraries.
As of February 2022, the foundational aspects of the outreach externship program remain unchanged. The “typical” day-to-day experience has changed quite a bit, though! The safety of our staff, students, and the public is a top priority, which means the majority of our educational programs (and our externs’ involvement in them) are virtual. The outreach staff have adapted quickly to a virtual plane, but Sarah and Camryn – the Center’s newest outreach externs – are venturing into new territory. For the first time in Center history, a large portion of their experiences and learning opportunities are taking place virtually and remotely rather than in-person and on-site. To get a better understanding of their experiences so far, I asked both Sarah and Camryn to share their thoughts and insights:
Alex: Before your externship began, had you ever been to the Center? Applying or interviewing for positions entirely online is pretty normalized these days, but was there anything about our physical building that surprised you? Or, was there anything that you weren’t expecting based on the pictures of our building that are on our website?
Camryn: I had been following the Wildlife Center of Virginia for years on social media before I had the chance to extern. A few months before I started my externship here, a classmate and I found an injured squirrel on our campus at Bridgewater College. The squirrel was on the ground struggling with a broken leg, seeming almost lethargic. The squirrel eventually climbed up a tree and my classmate and I grabbed gloves, a trap, and a ladder. My classmate climbed up the ladder and grabbed the squirrel and soon brought it to the Center for care. Even though the squirrel did not make it, I was so grateful for the Center and was happy to visit it in person.
I hadn’t seen many pictures of the Center as a whole and was surprised by the layout of the building. It has many individual moving parts working together as one and everything has its specific place and section within the building. This is silly, but I didn’t even think about how the Center would have an animal kitchen. It absolutely makes sense, given the needs of patients and ambassadors, however, for some reason, it didn’t cross my mind that the Center would have one!
Sarah: Before I started, I had never been to the Center and surprisingly enough I had never even heard of it. When I was scrolling through the website, I saw the interior layout but I wasn’t expecting how much space the outdoor areas of the Center had.
Alex: Working online and remotely is a big part of your externship program here. Do you have any classmates that are also participating in an online-centric internship program with other organizations? If so, do you think your experiences so far at the Center are similar to what others may be going through?
Camryn: My roommate is a digital media student and last semester she had an online internship where she created designs for Instagram posts and website articles. She was completely online and had some interaction with her internship peers, however, I do not believe she had as many in-person or in-depth interactions as I have had in the Center. I believe my experiences are similar to others within online internships, although I have had the privilege of working in person and working with ambassador animals. Online-centric internships are certainly helpful, especially due to scheduling and balancing the internship with schoolwork. It can be difficult with communication, however, as being in person is much more convenient and easier for all people involved. As a whole, I believe that online-centric internships are convenient and necessary, and even though I enjoy the in-person experience, the flexibility is certainly great.
Sarah: My only classmate who is working at an online-centric internship program is my co-worker Camryn, so I don’t have any outside input from my peers.
Alex: Even though all of us are working remotely and digitally more than we may have in the past, the identity of the Center and the goals of our department haven’t changed. We’re all about “teaching the world” - what kinds of things are you focusing on (or want to focus more on) that will help you connect people with wildlife and the environment?
Camryn: As a bird nerd, I would like to focus most on birds and their wildlife issues, such as window collisions. At Bridgewater College I conducted bird surveys focused on campus buildings, collecting information on bird strikes (window collisions) to add to the growing data on the subject and illustrate how even small buildings in rural places can have bird strikes. I am interested in education on how to prevent bird strikes, decrease wildlife-human conflicts, and many other issues such as the use of glue traps. My connection to birds is certainly my driving force for education at the Center, and I would love to educate more people about birds and wildlife issues so that the risk for birds can be reduced.
Sarah: I am focused on making social media content to educate people about native wildlife in Virginia, what problems native wildlife is facing in Virginia, what the Wildlife Center of Virginia does, and what different people at the Center do. In addition to social media content, I have been writing reference sheets for Wildlife Care Academy classes for the students to use. Before coming to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I have worked in three different museums doing some form of education. During my time here I want to be a part of some of our programs like Meet an Ambassador and Cam in the Classroom. One of the projects that I am hoping to participate in is a program for Critter Nation by using the moderated discussion.
Alex: Your externship program is scheduled to be completed in April 2022. Anything you’d like to say to “future you”?
Camryn: I would like to say that I hope that my experience here at the Center is even better as a whole than it already has been. I hope that the friends I make here are lifelong and that I continue to work with animals in some capacity in the future.
Sarah: To future me, I hope that you get to lead some programs or at least get to co-host some programs. I hope your moderated discussion program is loved and well-attended. I also hope that Verlon lets you work with him on the glove, that you master the falconer’s knot.
Being able to tell the stories and experiences of staff and students at the Wildlife Center is one of the best features of our website, in my opinion. Even though we're a hospital for wildlife, the human connections to our work are often some of the most valuable insights we're able to share with the world. If you've become interested in becoming an outreach extern yourself after reading this, I'd encourage you to check out our Education Outreach Training page here.
Until next time!
Outreach Publich Affairs Manager