EPIC ZOO Experience

of a Lifetime


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AAUW mentor Lindy Edmond, student Melissa Ellis, AAUW mentor Melinda Garcia, Big Bear Alpine Zoo curator, Bob Cisneros,

AAUW director, Jill Myers, AAUW mentor Linda Bulman, student Kelly Mount, AAUW mentor Karen Oliver 


By Christie Walker__    

Big Bear High School students Melissa Ellis and Kelly Mount spent the week of July 16-21st working behind-the-scenes with zookeepers in the morning, giving presentations to zoo guests on various animals in the afternoon, and then wrote a blog each day illustrated with their own photographs, chronicling their experience, during the first annual Zoo Experience Camp at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.

The week ended with a culmination ceremony attended by over fifty guests including local dignitaries, school board members, zoo staff, parents and friends.


“This has been one of the best weeks of my entire life,” said Kelly Mount on her last day of The Zoo Experience program. I don’t want this week to be over. I learned so much about each animal and so much about the zookeepers and what they do every day. I honestly want to do something this important sometime in the future.”


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LEFT - AAUW mentor Linda Edmond, student Melissa Ellis and Big Bear Alpine Zoo curator, Bob Cisneros

RIGHT - Melissa Ellis (L) and Kelly Mount (R), with The Zoo Experience director Jill Myers, also a AAUW member.

The brainchild of Big Bear Alpine Zoo curator, Bob Cisneros, Cisneros approached the president of the local Big Bear Valley American Association of University Women (AAUW) about partnering on a special program for Big Bear High School girls in 2017. Cisneros and members of AAUW worked for months creating the inaugural program. Cisneros was pleased with the outcome of The Zoo Experience.

“Every day, zoos all over the country make it their mission to connect people to wildlife,” explained Cisneros.  “The “Zoo Experience” took our zoo’s mission and expanded upon it in a most profound way.  An immersion experience at the zoo gave two young women entering their senior year in high school a week’s worth of epiphanies.   The science behind what we do in zoos as well as the emphasis that we place on conservation education made our collaboration with AAUW a perfect partnership.”

Cisneros wasn’t the only one happy with The Zoo Experience. "We are very pleased with the meaningful impact that The Zoo Experience STEM camp had on our students,” said Jill Myers, AAUW director, The Zoo Experience. “The students came away with a clear picture and understanding of the complex environment and the many career paths in the zoological sciences." 


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                            Melissa Ellis L) and Kelly Mount (R), listen to lead Big Bear Alpine Zoo

                            Animal Keeper, Summer McElroy at the culmination ceremony


But the person has summed up the experience best was Zoo Experience participant, Melissa Ellis. “This whole week was one of the most amazing and insightful weeks of my life. This experience has been filled with so much valuable information, which I'll be able to use when considering my future profession,” said Ellis. “I wish my week at the zoo wasn’t over, but I hope that this first Zoo Experience has set a good foundation for the lucky girls who will get to participate in the years to come.” 


   AAUW hi res.jpg    whose mission it is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research, has created this unique program in conjunction with the Big Bear Alpine Zoo and has sponsored the two, high school junior girls. With the success of the 2018 Zoo Experience program, plans are already shaping up for 2019, with next year’s program scheduled to take place at the new zoo.


Photo Credit – Richard Millener