FIU, Zoo Miami and the Zoo Miami Foundation are joining to expand conservation research opportunities for undergraduate college students.
The joint effort has been awarded a three-year, $378,000 Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site Grant from the National Science Foundation. It will provide fully funded opportunities for FIU students and others from colleges throughout the United States to gain experience conducting independent research in conservation biology at Zoo Miami.
Students will be mentored by conservation biologists and conservation education researchers at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education and the zoo’s conservation scientists and wildlife veterinarians.
Ten students will be accepted into the program each year during the summers of 2020, 2021 and 2022. The program organizers hope to recruit students from minority groups underrepresented in science careers and students from universities with limited exposure to research.
The program is being modeled on an existing internship collaboration between FIU and Zoo Miami, said Elizabeth Anderson, project co-lead and an FIU assistant professor of Earth and Environment.
“Our program is different from a traditional REU program because students will have the opportunity to design and answer research questions in a new setting at Zoo Miami,” Anderson said. “Miami is an ideal lab for learning about conservation science, while surrounded by iconic locations like the Everglades and coastal reefs.”
The National Science Foundation funds dozens of REU sites across the US and internationally, but most are at research universities, field stations, or museums. As the only zoo-based REU program within the U.S., this grant could enhance the national capacity to train a new generation of conservation biologists for research careers working in and alongside zoos.
“Science guides the way we save wildlife — whether in human care or in the natural environment,” said Steven Whitfield, an FIU alumnus and conservation and research specialist at Zoo Miami who is a project co-lead. “This grant will allow the zoo and FIU to train research students in a unique and fascinating environment for conservation biology, while presenting them to the real-world opportunities and challenges of doing conservation research at a zoo.”
Zoo Miami is the first zoo in the U.S. to receive such an award and only the second institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to host an REU Site.