When it came to developing future zoologists in the Midwest, veteran biology professor Gary Dodson decided it was time to change the status quo.

Thousands of freshmen enroll in biology in America's classrooms each year, aspiring to someday work closely with animals, but programs that prepare students to work in zoos are startlingly rare. And zoo internship programs that bolster students' chances of becoming a zoo keeper are highly competitive.

With Ball State's Department of Biology facing such challenges, Dodson took matters in his own hands and established immersive learning experiences at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo—just about 90 minutes from campus.

"We needed immersive experiences that put our students into a real zoo and gives them the freedom and responsibility of producing something that makes the zoo better," Dodson says.

The zoo dates back to the early 1950s and is one of the northeast Indiana's major attractions. The facility has been recently named one of the country’s "Ten Best Zoos for Kids" by Child magazine.

Ball State students have:

  • produced videos about the behavioral training that takes place with the orangutans to gain the animals' cooperation in their own preventive health care and about procedures required to meet the nutritional requirements of the zoo's jellyfish population
  • documented and analyzed visitors' abilities at navigating within the zoo grounds
  • used video over broadband (VOB) to closely track the lives of several squirrel-sized tamarins, colorful monkeys that inhabit tropical rain forests and open forest regions of Central and South America
  • created new signage for the zoo's Australia Adventure exhibits

Rob Denton, '09, a biology major from Upland, Indiana, says working at the zoo was a transforming experience, giving him a head start on the field before he enrolled in graduate school. During his stay at the zoo, he got to assist with a medical check-up on a binturong as well as participate in research on antifungal medications for penguins.

"It forced me beyond what I am comfortable with in a normal classroom and gave me a realistic view of how a zoo works inside and out."

Related Links:

Department of Anthropology

Department of Biology

College of Science and Humanities

Immersive Learning