At any given time of the day, Trevecca student Gabriel Navarro could be discussing wildlife conservation, leading campers to the Alligator Cove, doing headcounts or playing poison dart frog with elementary school kids.
As an educational assistant at the Nashville Zoo, Navarro, a senior biology major, carries out summer camps activities for kids ages 4 to 14. And as long as he follows the camp’s theme, Navarro is given the freedom to administer tours the way he sees fit.
“Honestly, it makes me really excited and really happy to be part of this camp because as someone who aspires to be a zookeeper in the future, this is my first steps into actually getting there,” he said. “Even though it might just be being with kids and talking to them about animals, it’s not just that. We are literally training or teaching future generations about the world and how we can make it a better place.”
Navarro found his passion for animals one summer while working in a zoo in his hometown in Honduras.
Upon returning to continue his education at Trevecca, Navarro approached Dr. Nyk Reed, assistant professor in biology, to express his interest.
“I think science in itself is one of the languages of the world,” Reed said. “It’s something that all countries and cultures use in some form and I think the fact that [Navarro] is doing well just shows how much of a strong student and handworker he is.”
With the support of Reed and other professors at Trevecca, Navarro initially applied to an internship opportunity in the Nashville Zoo under the herpetology department but didn’t get the job.
In the email that delivered that bad news, Navarro also got some good news. Zoo officials presented him with a different job opportunity. He interviewed the next day, which was followed by an email saying he would be “a good addition to the team.”
“The interviewer said that this was more like a foot on the door kind of thing… this is my way of getting into the zoo,” he said.
The biology program at Trevecca covers a broad range of subjects, Navarro said. Combined with his training as a resident assistant (RA), Navarro felt ready to take on the task.
In giving students background knowledge of multiple topics, Navarro says the University’s biology program is designed to prepare students as for any scientific field they wish to pursue.
“We’re broadening our scope so students can get exposed to multiple things and, for some, they just want to zoom in on what they really think they want to do long term— adding more things to their toolbelts so to speak,” he said.
Navarro believes human beings often misunderstand animals as they seem to see them more as pets rather than living organisms. The challenge, he says, is channeling his message to young children.
“Getting my message to the kids and leaving a mark in them, that I think is the hardest part. That [my advocacy] doesn’t just end when the camp ends, it ends when you die. It sounds very dramatic, but I just want to make a difference at least in one kid,” he said.
The Nashville Zoo set aside a week to train Navarro for his role, and he was even CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certified in case of emergencies. Navarro also took the opportunity learn from the professionals at the zoo.
Being a zookeeper or a zoologist is not a "common career path," Navarro realized the moment he mentioned his plans to his parents. Still, Navarro has their approval. Navarro said his parents want to see him working in-person.
“[My parents] were really proud of me because I was achieving things on my own. I wasn’t relying on them for anything, as of right now,” he said. “Their support transcends any geographical boundaries. They’re really happy and excited about this. They were surprised too at some point.”
By Maria Monteros
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