Jenna Cox - Student Success

Graceland biology major Jenna Cox

It came to my attention early in my career as a Graceland student that the path I have chosen for my future is an unusual one. Many biology majors are pre-med or pre-nursing, but I have never been interested in those things. 

For my entire life, all I have wanted to do is work alongside animals. Caring for them fills my heart to the brim. 

So, for the past several years, I’ve wanted to be a zookeeper. The connections and academic growth I have made at Graceland have definitely prepared me to pursue my dream.

My sophomore year, I took organic chemistry, and it lived up to its reputation of difficulty. Dr. Daniel Pratt and I agree that I wasn’t great at the subject he teaches, but he recognized my ambition and passion for a career in zookeeping. I’m a senior now, but Dr. Pratt still stops to chat with me about animals, and he even wrote me a letter of recommendation when I started applying to zookeeping internships around the country. He had no obligation to do that, but he chose to because he believes in me as a person and my career goals. I applied to a dozen summer internships and accepted a position at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Washington state. So many of my professors showered me with encouragement. They were excited for me because I was excited for my future. 

I deeply cherished the 12 weeks I spent working with a menagerie of native animal species in the Pacific Northwest. Bears, beavers, bison; the whole lot! Every keeper at Northwest Trek was a mentor to me at some point, as so many of my professors at Graceland have been. The keepers have dedicated their lives to caring and advocating for the incredible creatures with whom we share our world. Each person had differing levels of expertise, but they strived to teach and learn from each other in order to provide the best for the animals they adore.

Everyone had an assigned group of animals to care for, but we were one team with one cause: total commitment to animal welfare, animal conservation and public education. We worked together to provide quality diets, clean and safe habitats, mental and physical enrichment, and top-notch veterinary care for our animals. It was hard labor, but a passion for the animals and the joy that comes from seeing them grow and thrive overshadowed it all. It was that love that brought us to work each day and moved the keepers to care for each other alongside the animals. Differences aside, they always had each other’s backs. The zoological curator of Northwest Trek said they were the strongest team he has ever worked with, and I was honored to briefly join their ranks. I left my internship newly enlightened and inspired to follow in the footsteps of the amazing people I worked with this summer. I know I never would have reached this point without the support of a very special few at Graceland. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”