Jessica Bartlett

University of Hawaii at Manoa

  • Zoology (B.S.) - 2014

The first time I visited the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus, I was a junior in high school. Exploring my future college options, my family took a vacation to Oahu to check out the university. At the time, I was convinced I was going to be a dolphin trainer. Animals have always been my passion, and caring for them came naturally and instinctively to me. For years growing up, I dreamed of the chance to one day study marine biology and work one-on-one with cetaceans in a conservation and training realm. That is what initially drew me to UH. I knew that the university offered an excellent marine biology program with many interesting opportunities for research and further development. The option to major in zoology was also appealing in case I changed my mind about marine biology. Spoiler alert—I did. When I stepped onto campus for the first time though, I was in awe of the natural beauty, the laid-back, friendly atmosphere, and the overall college environment that UH provided. After spending a day visiting and speaking with faculty in both the biology and zoology departments, I felt as if I was being invited to experience the university in a whole new way and learn from some incredible people.

My decision to attend UH was rather simple. I stuck with my guns and declared myself as a marine biology major. That changed the second semester of my freshman year, however. After some serious thought and long conversations, I decided that I didn’t want to limit myself to just working with marine mammals as I have a love for many different types of animals, particularly big cats and large ungulates. I had a fantastic advisor in the biology department who helped me immensely. He sat down with and showed me the major plans for both the marine biology and zoology degrees. He let me ramble on about my career aspirations, dreams, and passions, and gave me advice along the way. After sincerely looking at the classes offered by the zoology program, I decided that it was best to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science in Zoology. The program allowed me to take more electives and classes I was interested in, like marine mammal biology, ethology, and animal ecology. I had more freedom to dive into the study of animals, and I loved that UH offered a unique program that I could tailor to my interests instead of being forced to take classes I didn’t care about or wouldn’t help me in the long run.

Over the course of my four years at UH, I came to know some really great professors who were passionate about what they were researching and teaching. It was refreshing to work with faculty that genuinely cared about my own goals as well; professors that found it intriguing that I wanted to be an animal keeper and who understood that I would never fully grasp Organic Chemistry, and that it was okay for my future career path. These people inspired me to work hard and to dedicate myself to fulfilling my purpose in life. I came to be well known in the biology department—first as a good student and second because I took a job as a laboratory assistant for the Biology 275 and 375 lab coordinator. I learned so much from that job, which has helped me in both my personal growth and career development. I spent a lot of time running experiments, making materials for the lab, caring for the thousands of Drosophila melanogaster flies, and teaching in a classroom setting all the while developing relationships with my fellow students and faculty in the department. I also got involved in some conservation research being conducted on campus working with endangered, endemic Hawaiian tree snails at Dr. Brenden Holland’s Native Hawaiian Tree Snail Conservation Laboratory. Because of my love for animals and conservation work, it felt like the perfect fit. Even though mammals are my forte, I believe in the importance of experiencing different things, and working with the tree snails gave me an appreciation for Earth’s smaller critters and Hawaii’s natural uniqueness. The university also had some great programs and clubs that I found myself becoming involved in, like the Marine Option Program and the Biology Club. Both of these programs allowed me to experience various aspects of biological sciences and the careers involved in them, and I found myself growing and learning so much more outside of the classroom.

One of the biggest things that was so great about the University of Hawaii for me was its close proximity to the Honolulu Zoo. At the end of my freshman year all the way up to my college graduation, I volunteered at the zoo as an animal keeper assistant in one of the sections that cared for an eclectic group of African mammals, including lions and rhinoceroses. My education coupled with the phenomenal hands-on animal keeping experience I received has been invaluable to me as I have progressed in my career. I could not have done all of this without having had that first initial experience at UH while I was in high school.

After graduating in May, 2014, I went back home to Washington State and interned at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma in the Asian Forest Sanctuary area of the zoo. At the end of my internship, I was offered a part-time animal keeper position, and have been doing that since. Anyone who knows this field can tell you that it is extremely difficult to start a career in animal keeping, and I have been fortunate to work so closely with a number of endangered, exotic mammals. My daily duties include anything from cleaning exhibits and animal holding rooms, to diet preparation and feeding, helping with animal medical procedures and care, animal training, creating enrichment, rearing cubs, and educating the public on current conservation issues and solutions. Animal care is most definitely my calling and passion, and I could not have started my career without spending time in Hawaii and attending UH.

Whatever you do in life, find what makes you happy. Find something that is going to get you out of bed in the morning and excited, and adds meaning and purpose to your life. Find something that ignites a fire in your heart and lets you make a difference in this world. Find a place, wherever you are, that is going to nurture and support your aspirations and goals. Always continue to learn, grow, and be open-minded to the world around you.



Content Type: 
Alumni Blog
Last Modified: 
07/08/2015 at 1:55pm