Lessons Learned

Once I fully grasped what the Wildlife Center of Virginia was really all about, I realized that I would be spending eight weeks in one of the best places in the world … in a place where there is so much support and inspiration to learn new things and a place where I could push myself to be a better person and teacher. To do all of this while saving not only animals, but people as well … no feeling is more inspiring or powerful! 

The Wildlife Center isn’t just made up of those who work there full time; it’s the externs and interns as well as volunteers, community service helpers, and all of the permanent residents -- all of the education ambassadors. Everybody plays a role in making the Center what it is. The animals are especially important in conveying the messages of conservation. It makes our messages strong when people can understand the experiences these animals have endured or just have the opportunity to “meet” wildlife up close and personal. It helps people appreciate wildlife, while motivating them to make a difference. In reality, without all of these people, Virginia wildlife wouldn’t be able to get the help they deserve.

In the outreach department, no two days are the same -- it’s a very diverse department. One of the main responsibilities of the outreach department is public education. Sharing the stories of the Wildlife Center with the rest of the world is done in a number of ways (all of which I have now experienced):  conducting on- and off-site programs and tours, leading open houses, writing website stories and updates about the patients, composing emails for education ambassador sponsors, and spending time on the moderated discussion. Outreach includes all of that … plus understanding rehabilitation and veterinarian practices and terminology. One minute, the outreach team would be working on updating patient stories on the website, the next minute, giving a tour with an ambassador on the glove. Then we’d take pictures of a patient release – you just never know where you’ll end up.


Teaching the world to care about and to care for wildlife and the environment is a rewarding task for me. From leading the tour groups on open-house days, to providing on- and off-site education programs, there are always people who are ready to learn. Even at the Center – everyone has something to learn and somebody to teach them.

I have learned so much from these programs. I’m hopeful that other centers around the world understand the importance of this support and put the same amount of blood, sweat, and tears into outreach programs and educating others about native wildlife in their area.

The skills that I learned throughout the duration of my externship were important at the Wildlife Center, but the knowledge I gained from everybody is what I will take with me to each new challenge I face. Every time I turned around there was something for me to learn, and I did my best to keep up with everything.

Don’t get me wrong -- I faced many challenges during this experience. The first two weeks were very overwhelming. Trying to get a hang of a new environment, learning a new “language”, strengthening my writing skills, and getting to know all of the people and the education ambassadors was a lot to take in. Each day I was faced with new challenges. I believe part of the experience is overcoming these obstacles – and quickly, because it’s true with nature and wildlife in every aspect:  it’s unpredictable.

Whenever I go somewhere I always want to walk away from the experience knowing I took something away from it. I want to know that I learned a lesson that I might not have been able to learn elsewhere.

While thinking about my final blog, my reflection on the past two months, I came up with a question that I just kept asking myself:  “If there is one lesson you have learned during the time you have spent in the field that you wish you knew from day one, what would it be?”

Every time I thought about this question I realized I always had a different answer. I questioned what that answer might be for other people at the Wildlife Center.

Everybody had different answers but it seemed they all followed a very similar theme: in this field, it’s impossible to make everybody happy, it’s impossible to make hard decisions any easier, sometimes the best ways are old ways but that’s not an excuse to not consider changes, and no matter where you go, experiences and lessons learned in life are the reason you are where you are. To get where you want to be, you have to be open and ready for whatever may come your way.

But I have also realized that no matter when you learn something, the most important part of the lesson, is actually learning it.

To walk away from this experience with only learning one lesson would be impossible. But the lessons I have learned are all very important to me and I hope to remember these throughout the rest of my career.

I will never forget what it was like the first day I walked into the Center; the first time I handled Pignoli, Grayson, or Quinn; the first time I led a tour or a program; or even my last day, leading an on-site field trip by myself for Brownie Troop 208. And most of all I will never forget the people I worked with and lived with. Everybody has influenced me in one way or another.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia has changed me in more ways than one. My appreciation for wildlife is stronger than it ever has been before, and I know now, that I can’t care about and care for wildlife and the environment without the support of others, because animals can’t speak up or change things themselves.

I would like to thank every single person that I met (in person or online) throughout the past eight weeks. I know that I have learned something from all of you, I hope that you all feel the same. Without your help, the Wildlife Center wouldn’t be the same. This opportunity has opened my eyes to a new world of wildlife, and I believe this is just the beginning of fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Watch out world, here I come!

--Brittney, outreach extern spring 2014

Learn more about the Wildlife Center externs of 2014.

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