SALISBURY, MD---Salisbury University senior Ashley Shirk of Grasonville, MD, entered college with intentions of becoming a zoologist. Last summer she learned about the field first-hand, working with wild animals more than four times her size.
The biology major enlisted in a summer internship program at the Siberian Tiger Conservation Association in Gambier, OH, a decision some of her friends and family initially thought risky to say the least.
“They said, ‘You crazy girl, you’re going to get eaten,’” she said, alluding to some of the bad press tigers have gotten in the live entertainment world. “I don’t want to play with them on stage.”
Indeed, what Shirk did could not be considered “play” by any means. She and other interns from around the country became close with the tigers at the conservatory, performing health checks, taking their pulse, giving them water and food (pre-packaged in bulk rolls), brushing their teeth and even walking them on leashes.
Though the tigers never threatened Shirk, she was prepared in case they did. Each intern was expected to carry a spray bottle of vinegar water to deter the animals in case they became overzealous while in the interns’ care. Interns also carried cans of compressed air in case they needed to protect themselves from the conservatory’s lone male lion, which would have been less affected by the vinegar water.
Shirk learned about the tiger conservation internship program online and made her decision to sign up.
“There is just no way I would not have done it,” she said.
“Students gain in many ways from internships,” said Dr. Judith Stribling, internship coordinator for SU’s Biology Department. “Some find the work to be exactly what they wanted, confirming their job aspirations and establishing valuable contacts. Others learn the valuable lesson that they really do not want to pursue this type of work in the future, without having made costly investments in time and commitments.
“Ashley is an example of the former student, and she also exemplified one other outstanding advantage of internships: They give students a grounding for their academic work, showing them the utility of much of what they have learned in a real life setting. They return to campus with renewed focus and connectedness with their class work.”
Besides earned three credits toward her education at SU, Shirk said she earned valuable experience that will help her with her ultimate goal: working at a conservatory and preparing animals for release into the wild. She credits SU, in part, with helping her set that goal.
“SU has made me more well-rounded,” she said. “I got a taste of everything, and it helped me realize what I like.”
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu. "