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Zoo joins PCC for new keeper degree program

PCC launches new degree focused on zoo animals
by: Michael Durham Joyce Kaplan, chairwoman of PCC’s new degree program on the biology and management of zoo animals, gets acquainted with Imelda, a Philippine sail-fin lizard, held by Oregon Zoo Director Kim Smith. The zoo is partnering with PCC on the new program, which aims to provide future zookeepers with both a quality education and real-world experience.

There are only six in the entire country, only two west of the Mississippi River and none in the Pacific Northwest. But that is about to change.

Beginning next fall, Portland Community College will offer a two-year associate of applied science degree in the biology and management of zoo animals (BMZA), in partnership with the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, which is run by Oregon Health and Science University.

Most of the coursework will be based at PCC's Rock Creek campus, with rotating cooperative education courses at the Oregon Zoo and Primate Center. The 28 students who will enroll each fall can expect a rigorous science curriculum focused on biology and zoology, as well as required courses in animal behavior and exhibit design and construction.

'We are training future zoo keepers,' said Joyce Kaplan, Rock Creek's BMZA faculty department chairwoman. 'This is a very portable degree, and it prepares graduates to work wherever you find animals - in zoos, aquariums, wildlife reserves and parks, primate labs, wildlife rehabilitation centers and at wildlife regulatory agencies. It also works for graduates who want to work as fish and game officers and inspectors, or as animal trainers and breeders.'

Prior to joining the PCC faculty in September, Kaplan worked for 14 years as director of the zoo animal technology associate degree program at Pensacola State College. What drew her to Oregon was an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded organizations that were both respected and well established.

'When I looked at PCC, I found an amazing history of innovative programs and great enthusiasm for new ideas,' Kaplan said. 'Beginning first term, our students work directly with domestic animals before they are introduced to the more exotic ones. At Rock Creek, you have a terrific vet tech program and a farm that is home to a half-dozen different animals. Match those elements with willing partners at the Primate Center and at the zoo, and you have an extraordinary teaching and learning environment.'

With around 2,200 specimens representing 260 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, the Oregon Zoo is a complex and attractive partner for PCC.

'Helping future zookeepers obtain a high-quality education is something we are very excited about at the Oregon Zoo,' said Kim Smith, Oregon Zoo director. 'An educated and experienced animal-care staff is essential for any modern zoo. By partnering with Portland Community College to launch this program, we are investing in our own future.'

PCC students who enroll in the BMZA program not only benefit by having access to one of the country's finest zoos, they also benefit by having access to one of the eight national primate research centers in the United States.

'The BMZA program is a great addition to the educational opportunities at PCC,' said veterinarian C.J. Doane, associate director of animal resources for the Oregon National Primate Research Center. 'We have partnered successfully with PCC in the past, creating hands-on training for students that is highly relevant to their career choice. The collaboration among PCC, the Oregon Zoo and the ONPRC will prepare students to provide high-quality animal care, focused on animal well-being and health.'

For details about course requirements and enrollment information, visit pcc.edu/programs/zoo-animals.