San Diego Zoo
Year zoo career began:
Victoria Dunch grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts loving nature and being outside. She had fun climbing trees in the apartment complex she lived in and exploring the creek/run off area that ran behind the complex. For her, being outside was an escape. She loved dolphins and had a vague aspiration to be a marine biologist but wound up going to Smith College two hours from the ocean, and they didn't offer Marine Biology as a major. She can remember sitting on her bed, flipping through the booklet of majors offered by the college as a first year. Environmental Science was the only one that called to her, so off she went the next four years hacking away at the requirements class by class.
She had been told summer internships were important for gaining experience, and it kept her busy and out of the house during the summer months. Every winter she would search frantically for something to push her dreams forward. There was not a summer to be wasted. The first one was spent in Western Massachusetts volunteering with a small environmental summer camp called Bio-Citizen. Each week they'd work with ~10 kids of a similar age and take them hiking, canoeing, or tubing somewhere in the region. That's when Victoria realized how little she'd truly explored her own backyard. She'd lived more than a decade in Western Massachusetts and had never hiked all these paths, tubed these rivers, or seen these waterfalls. It was eye opening, and her first introduction to environmental education.
The next two summers were spent at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) labs, thanks to a partnership between her college and NOAA. Summer 2012 was in Charleston, South Carolina and summer 2013 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. These were her first experiences in "real" labs, and it was never lost on her afterwards what an impression it made on her just to "be" in these spaces. Even after graduating in 2014, she managed to snag one final internship opportunity again through her school. It involved working with five other women to hold marine science based summer camps for the children of San Pedro, Belize, as well as work with professors to collect data for an ongoing project on local coral reefs. Victoria had taken a SCUBA diving course two years prior so she was prepared. That nagging feeling for the ocean never faded.
The summer ended and it was time to enter "the real world." She moved to San Diego, California with her fiancé and set about looking for work that made a difference, all the while being incredibly grateful to have a few weeks where she could just job search. That first opportunity came as a door-to-door canvasser for non-profits, through an organization called The Fund for Public Interest. It was hard, she had doors slammed in her face, and worked until about 10pm each shift. It didn't last long, but little did she know that experience would land her an entry level job at the San Diego Zoo.
In February 2015, Victoria was hired to be a part of their growing team of on-grounds canvassers. She got to learn all about the conservation work the San Diego Zoo did and work to raise funds for something meaningful. During hiring she was told about their research facility, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research (ICR), as well as the Master's program the Zoo offered. Her eyes were set. She was a part time employee, so she found yet another internship with the Birch Aquariums summer camp program, as well as became an official volunteer of theirs working whale watches and shifts with the touch tide pools. After six months with the San Diego Zoo a position opened on the ICR's Community Engagement team, and the rest is history. A year later she started her Master's in Biology work through the Zoo's Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) while working full time.
These days she teaches conservation science to the middle and high school students who come on field trips to her teams Conservation Education Lab. During the spring and summer she prepares for and coordinates Teacher Workshops in Conservation Science, a Program of the Munitz Academy for the Teaching of Science, and with the rest of the team, engages science teachers from across the country and world. She is incredibly grateful to work at the San Diego Zoo where she can learn every day, and hopefully inspire students (especially those that look like her) to share her passion for conservation. She is incredibly grateful to those who guided her, and she is always happy to talk to aspiring conservationists and young people. The most empowering piece of advice she was ever given after graduating college was this: “Don’t settle.” Sometimes we just need others to tell us that we belong, and you reader, belong here.