“I graduated from UF in 2020 with a microbiology degree and I was just kind of like ‘I don’t want to work inside.’ There’s something that draws me outside.
In your first year of the Zoo Animal Technology Program at SF, you have to lift a 50 pound bag for the midterm and finals. And I had no body strength whatsoever. I remember breaking down thinking ‘I’m never going to lift this 50 pound bag!’ Now I can just do it and I don’t have to think twice about it. None of my clothes fit, I’ve gained so much muscle. I’ve become a lot stronger mentally and physically.
My family upbringing has helped me in terms of the guest experience – in the teaching zoo and in my role as an ambassador for the college. My whole family is special needs. My mom has Asperger’s, my brother has Tourette Syndrome, my other brother is pretty severely autistic. I have autism spectrum disorder. When you’re neurodivergent you don’t look disabled and everyone wants to treat you normal, because you look normal. But you’re not. I think this has helped me a lot in terms of guest experience. I’ve learned a lot of patience and empathy with people. I’ve learned to be as considerate as possible. I didn’t think I would love talking to guests, but I do. I love like ‘let me tell you everything about this animal, let me tell you their name, their birthday…’ It’s just one of my favorite things.
Next semester I’ll be a senior. When I graduate, I’d love to continue in the area of education. My special interest is insects. I love invertebrates, I’m an invert gal. I’d really love to find an invertebrate house to work in and share with everybody just how amazing insects are. I can’t be at the zoo enough, I’m here six days a week because I want to be. I’m a different person in so many ways because of SF, and it’s all really great ways. “
Zoe Willingham, SF Ambassador and student, Zoo Animal Technology, A.S.