By Katrina Rossos
Destiny Cardentey, a senior majoring in wildlife ecology and conservation, worked hard over the summer as an intern for the UF/IFAS 4-H extension and at Zoo Miami. At the extension program, her main project was developing a week-long bug camp for children between the ages of 6 and 11. And at Zoo Miami she worked within the zoo’s Learning Experience Department.
Cardentey, from Miramar, Florida, originally wanted to become a zookeeper when she entered University of Florida as a freshman. Now that she is a senior, she said she is more interested in environmental education and outreach.
A Bug’s Life
“For the extension internship, I was mainly doing individual work day to day, creating social media posts to market for the bug camp, designing the camp shirts, and developing lessons for each day of the camp week,” Cardentey said. “I also created a ‘Bug Journal’ for the camp that was included into each lesson, had a ‘Bug of the Day,’ and fun facts about different insects.”
Additionally, Cardentey would go out with her boss and her assistant once or twice a week to practice the lessons she designed in front of the Broward County 4-H Garden Club and at a local martial arts camp.
“I gained a lot of experience as an informal teacher, like how to keep the students engaged and focused, as well as adapting to individual students with special needs,” Cardentey said. “Starting with a room of kids where some were terrified of insects, and leaving with them instead being more curious and comfortable with insects was such a rewarding feeling.”
Cardentey was one of three teachers at the Bug Camp and she taught 11 children about insects and their ecological roles. The camp also hosted several guest lecturers who came in and discussed various careers in entomology, tips on bug scouting, and creating healthy habitat for insects.
“Being surrounded by so many experts of entomology I learned probably just as much as the kids did at Bug Camp,” Cardentey said, noting that she learned a great deal about creating gardens to attract pollinators and the differences between native bees and honey bees.
Cardentey caught lubber grasshoppers at the beginning of her internship experience and she cared for them all summer. Her favorite memory was seeing the faces of the children light up when they held the lubber grasshoppers and learning all the creative names the children gave to them.
A Day at the Zoo
While interning at Zoo Miami, Cardentey worked within the zoo’s education department called “Learning Experiences”. She shadowed the zookeepers as they conducted their hourly talks at different exhibits within the zoo. “This was done while the zookeepers were feeding the animals so the guest got a chance to see the animals be more active and learn new things about them,” Cardentey said. “The educator would usually speak about the conservation issues the animals may be facing and the species’ unique characteristics, the species’ diet, and answer any questions guests might have.”
In addition to the shadowing, Cardentey developed lessons for the various outreach programs, including traveling to schools and teaching fourth and fifth graders about information such as animal habitats, camouflage, and the importance of enrichment for zoo animals.
“These programs always include doing hands-on activities such as creating enrichment for giraffes or creating a solar oven in addition as part of a sustainability lesson,” she said. “Here I learned about a lot of endangered species from all over the world and the direct impact Americans have on animals in Africa and the Sumatran rainforests. I now know to recycle any electronic device to prevent more coltan from being mined, one threat to Chimpanzee habitat loss, and how to find out if a product is using sustainable palm oil or not, which is another cause of habitat loss for orangutans, tigers, and other species.”
Beyond all the rewarding public outreach work, petting a sloth within the sloth enclosure at the zoo was Cardentey’s most cherished experience, along with all other animal encounters she had at the zoo.
Lessons Learned, Experience Gained
“This summer I learned how to best present a conservation message in a structured way that not only kids but adults also could understand and feel empowered to do something to help the cause,” she said. “I also gained a lot of experience with kids from all different backgrounds and learning abilities.”
Looking forward, Cardentey would like to work as an intern or a full-time employee at Disney’s Animal Kingdom within their Conservation Education department after she graduates. Additionally, she said that if she did decide to pursue her master’s degree she would like to study environmental education with a focus on impoverished youth.
“Overall I found that the more passionate you are about something and the more you show that to any type of audience, the more they will want to listen and learn from you,” Cardentey said in regard to her internship opportunities. “These skills are things that will give me a great head start to being a professional environmental educator.”