Zoo visit combines career insights with some animal fun

Most of us have fond childhood memories of family outings to the zoo. But Lisa Kahle-Piasecki’s Human Resource Management class recently had a cool opportunity that took it one step further: They got a unique behind-the-scenes look into to The Toledo Zoo to learn more about its daily operations.

Of course, they also enjoyed getting up close with animals and zookeepers while they were there.

“I remember going to the zoo as a little kid and I loved looking at all the exhibits,” said junior Business Administration major Lillian Robeson. “It was very interesting to see how the zoo works behind the scenes and how much work goes into the creation and upkeep of the animals and their exhibits.”

The trip to The Toledo Zoo was the culmination of the students’ work this semester with the zoo on a job analysis for several of positions, Lisa explained. “The purpose was to analyze a job through research and personal interviews, compare it to the actual job description and make recommendations for evaluations of the individual’s performance in the job, the job description, and conduct a task analysis,” she said.

The students analyzed the positions of Director of Membership, Zoo Curator, Director of Public Relations/Events. Students on the trip, in addition to Lillian, were Brandon Blott, Trent Green, Nate LaRoche, Erin Miller. Morgan Wright is also a class member but was unable to attend. Dean Anne Anderson and Owen Center Director of Academic Support Morgan Harrigan also accompanied the class.

While the students analyzed specific jobs for their class assignment, they also learned that there’s much more that goes into individual jobs. While some employees may have a “desk job,” all of them find themselves interacting daily with customers and visitors.

Across the board, zoo employees interviewed by the ’Berg students noted that every day is different, which keeps work interesting. But while days may vary, there’s one common skill that’s essential, Trent learned.

“It’s so important to have effective communication skills,” he said.

Lillian focused on the HR department, which helps to improve performance management and ensures the company runs smoothly and efficiently. It’s a big job with a lot of moving parts.

“Many people believe the zoo is run just by the zookeepers and management, but in reality, numerous people are working behind the scenes to make sure everything is going smoothly,” she said.

While the students had a serious assignment, there was also time for fun. Trent enjoyed being up close while zookeepers fed two sea lions who performed tricks for their miniature bait fish treats. 

At the end of the day, the students brought back valuable insights from the experience. “They gained practice in conducting a job analysis, interviewing and incorporating research into the entire process including practices for performance management,” Lisa said.

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