By Beacon Staff
Lindsay Frasciello has loved animals as far back as she can remember. As a young child, she often picked them up if she found them on the side of the road and brought them home to nurse them back to health. But finding a degree that fit her passion was not exactly easy.
Lindsay started her college career wishing to be a veterinarian, but as a biology major at Lee McRae College, in North Carolina, she struggled in classes. Being away from home, which meant the lack of a structured routine, and the prospect of so many additional years of schooling awaiting her also seemed daunting. Discouraged, she stopped school and transferred to a community college, also in North Carolina, where she continued to struggle to find her bearings.
A call from her grandparents, both of whom live in Florida, letting her know about Beacon College’s Bachelor of Science in Anthrozoology changed all that.
“My grandparents thought this was a degree I would potentially be interested in because I was passionate about animals,” said Frasciello, who is a graduate of the program and has been interning at the ZooTampa since graduating last year.
Lindsay was hesitant about a move away from home, but said a visit to the college’s animal lab, where she immediately felt connected to the creatures housed there, sealed the deal. That, and other Beacon students who welcomed her, offering her words of encouragement and urging her to follow her passion and continue her studies.
Like her, many students have been drawn to the college’s anthrozoology program, only one of two such programs in the United States at the bachelor’s level, with 93 students currently enrolled. The program, which started in 2016, has proven popular in the era of climate change and human encroachment on animal habitats, a time when so much of the natural world is in peril.
Students declared in the anthrozoology major, which explores the interactions people have with animals, take courses in animal husbandry, conservation biology, animal welfare, training and enrichment, and zoo and aquarium science, to name but a few. And they can choose to focus on captive wildlife, domestic animal care or wildlife conservation.
Sarah Yeadon, a junior in the program and professional horse rider, said she joined it because of her love of animals.
“What I love about the anthrozoology program is that it provides hands-on and accommodating education and resources to students like me to have a future career with animals,” said Yeadon, who hopes to become a zookeeper in an AZA-accredited facility upon graduation and educate the public on zoos’ conservation efforts.
“I had no doubt it was the program I was looking for and that I knew I could succeed in.”
The program’s hands-on quality is indeed part of the reason for its success, as students are able to apply their knowledge in realistic settings and better connect with course content.
Anthrozoology students frequently travel to facilities such as zoos, state parks, stables, farms and animal shelters and work side-by-side with professionals in the field. Other reasons for the appeal include the networking opportunities that experience offers as well as the close relationships students develop with instructors, who serve not only as professors but also as mentors.
“Our program is designed for students to take what they are learning in their courses and apply their knowledge right in the classroom,” said Bryan Cushing, anthrozoology academic program coordinator. “Whether they are practicing animal husbandry routines, creating press releases, or getting certified to teach Project & Aquatic WILD, students have the opportunity to add to their skills and resumes.”
Not that students are tethered to Beacon campus classrooms, Cushing said. Mother Nature provides her own environment for learning.
“We are really lucky to have opportunities to take our ‘classrooms’ off-campus as well,” he said. “In our upper-division courses, students get to travel around Central Florida — and sometimes beyond — to visit different zoological facilities and work behind the scenes with animals and their keepers. In our conservation courses, our students explore different wildlife management areas and state parks to see how much goes into managing our wild places and endangered species. They get to work with the Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, and Parks & Recreation.”
Learning isn’t limited to domestic boundaries.
Cushing said students in the program now routinely travel to Costa Rica’s rainforest to learn about conservation. A trip for January 2023 is in the works. A semester-long program on the island of Puerto Rico, where students were able to study cross-cultural anthrozoology first hand, also has been offered.
Most students pursue a job in a zoo or with companion animals. Others have gone into lobbying and activism professionally. And others have expressed interest in research and have joined research teams, been published in professional journals, and presented at national and international conferences. All students have to take a course in research methodology and statistical analysis as part of the major’s core curriculum.
“We are always looking for new opportunities for our students, especially when they have a particular interest,” Cushing said. “Students who are interested in research are supported in their efforts through our annual research fair, and sometimes get to travel to undergraduate research fairs where they get to mingle and learn from other students at different institutions.”
Cushing, meanwhile, said future plans for the program include enhanced learning spaces, new additions to the animal collection, relaunching travel programs now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased, the addition of more offsite learning experiences, and the creation of new internship pipelines for students with local facilities.
“Everywhere I look these days, I am seeing more focus and attention on human-animal dynamics and relationships,” he said. “Whether it’s conversations on climate change, ONE Health, human-wildlife conflict, or environmental conservation, it demonstrates the need and versatility when it comes to our field. It honestly gives me goosebumps because with this shift towards a more anthrozoological perspective (even when people don’t realize they are talking about it), I know our students are already ahead of the game.”