ZooTeens: Finding the New Normal in 2020

Posted December 23, 2020 by Mollie O'Neil

This year has inspired and required folks to explore creative ways to stay connected with friends and participate in fun activities. Our ZooTeens are no exception! Normally, they would spend several weeks of the year helping with Summer Camp, caring for our gardens, or enhancing the visitor experience at interpretive stations throughout the Zoo. Since the pandemic put “normal” on hold, some of them decided to find new ways to engage people in actions that help wildlife thrive. Learn more about our ZooTeen program.

Read on to meet a few of our ZooTeens then listen to a podcast they created to inform and inspire you!


My favorite part about being a ZooTeen are the people. I love waking up the day of a shift and thinking “today I get to teach somebody something new.” I love feeling accomplished after talking to the people, sharing facts about the animals, herding people’s reactions as I talk about the climate, and how the environment is threatened; than seeing their faces light up as they realize that there are things that they can do to help! I love the small children and their cute questions. I want every person I talk to, to while walking away, think “wow” “there are amazing things in this world and I get to be a part of them!” I especially love it when after talking to a family, you hear a small child say something like “mom, can we do that? I want to help the animal” or “can I do the job that that Zoo person is doing when I grow up?” It makes me proud of what I do.

As for my future career, I have no idea what I’ll end up doing, but I would love to continue to educate and inspire people to make the world a better place than it is here today. I am inspired to share the world with others, as it was shared with me, by the people who care the most about our planet, and by the people who can teach me how to make a difference in this wonderful world that I call home.


My favorite part about being a ZooTeen is all the positive human interaction! I love teaching and educating people about the amazing animals we have at the zoo, and the community I get from being in such an awesome group! As for a career, I’m all about PEOPLE and helping them. It’s changed a lot over the years, but I think I’ve zeroed in on an Occupational Therapist… But it might change (again)! Stay tuned!

Finally, I was inspired about environmental consciousness from the zoo, my very first Cincinnati Zoo Summer camp, actually, when I was 12 (2017 summer camp, everyone was takin ‘bout it)! Ever since, it’s just been the small choices every day to think about what I’m putting out on the earth and see if I can make a change for the better!


Hi! I’m Emmy, and I am a 4th-year ZooTeen. My favorite part of the ZooTeen program is the summer camp experience! Not only do you get to bond with some super amazing instructors and campers, you learn a great deal about leadership and teamwork in a short amount of time! I was truly terrified to lead summer camps my first year, but it ended up being an informative and overall exciting experience. I also learned how to walk backward down Bear Hill while leading my campers around zoo grounds— which is not an easy endeavor. I am considering a career path in Theriogenology, which is a field that focuses on reproductive biology! I learned about this field during my time in the program when I visited the Zoo’s CREW building with some summer campers. I heard one of the scientists talk about her role at the zoo and protecting endangered wildlife, and it seemed like the perfect fit for me and my interests! I am inspired to take action by stories of success. It can sometimes be hard to begin a journey of action without some sort of motivation, so with those stories of achievement, I am immediately moved to take action! 🙂


At Pollination Station we explain to people what pollinators are and why they’re important. I remember this one kid: he was very quiet while I talked, but at the end when his parents asked if they should grow a pollinator garden, he looked up and excitedly responded “yeah!” Maybe they grew the garden after that, maybe they didn’t. Either way the idea was planted in their head, and the whole family was at least making an effort to help the environment. That’s my favorite part of being a ZooTeen: planting seeds in people’s heads. I first got my love for nature and the environment by visiting the zoo; my goal is to help other people find their passion just as the zoo did for me.

I want to continue planting seeds in the future, whether it be related to conservation or some other issue. Right now, I’m looking into media: how can I get a point across. Recently, I’ve been exploring different mediums such as writing, video production, and of course, podcasting. I hope to continue that exploration in college and beyond, but wherever I end up, the ZooTeen program will have been my catalyst.


My favorite part of being a ZooTeen is meeting all the fantastic people. Whether that may be other ZooTeens, some of the adult volunteers, campers, or visitors everyone I’ve meet has been so amazing to talk to especially since you know they’ll share your enthusiasm for animals or conservation. Even though I’m not 100% sure what I want to do as a career yet, I’m interested in careers in the realm of conservation biology because I love learning about the natural world and helping educate others about problems facing the planet in today’s world. I’m really inspired to take action by organizations who promote conservation like the WWF, Audubon Canyon Ranch, and of course the Cincinnati Zoo!


What has made the ZooTeen Program such an important part of my life is having the opportunity to educate adults and children alike about the wonders of the natural world and the creatures that live in it. Whether it is spreading awareness about threats to the environment, discussing the typical habits of painted dogs or simply getting to see a young kid enthralled by the majestic bald eagles with a beaming smile on his/her face, this volunteer opportunity has taken it all to a whole new level.  Furthermore, experiencing the camaraderie, tight bonds and sense of unity for a common goal with my fellow teens has been an experience I will treasure all my days.

What inspires me to take action and inspire others to do so as well, is the deep respect and wonder I have for the natural world. Generations from now I want people to be able to enjoy all the amazing things our world has to offer from great white sharks leaping out of the water hunting seals to a junco landing in someone’s yard to forage.  Sadly, many of these are hemmed in by the threats our planet faces today, but what the ZooTeen Program has taught me is that whenever and wherever people take action–hope is alive!

As of right now, my career is looking towards field ornithology.  It has been my dream for a while now to travel the globe studying the populations and behaviors of all manners of bird life on our planet, while working to protect them for future generations to enjoy. The ZooTeen Program has been instrumental in keeping this flame alight and presenting me with opportunities and knowledge to get closer to this dream.