Olivet Animal Outreach program engages and educates community

Teaching the conservation of unique species - even the ones that creep and crawl.

Although they don’t have any lions, tigers, or bears, the ONU Animal Outreach team presents plenty of exciting specimens at their community events including Texas indigo snakes, eastern box turtles, and hissing cockroaches. 

The ONU Animal Outreach (OAO) program combines students’ passions for animals with opportunities to learn public speaking and presentation skills. During OAO presentations, community members receive information about both native and non-native species to better appreciate some of the earth’s most misunderstood creatures.

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A significant focus of the Department of Biological Sciences is encouraging students to take advantage of hands-on learning experiences. All zoology students are required to participate in an internship or a field studies program, which Olivet offers every summer. Additionally, many students choose to volunteer with the Animal Care program, a club that teaches the proper care of 30 different animals that are housed in Reed Hall of Science.

Inspired by their involvement in the Animal Care program, the formation of the OAO program was driven by sophomore zoology majors, Dakotah Henn and Tanner Senti.

After teaching a few classes about tarantulas at a local elementary school, Dakotah and Tanner considered that if Olivet already cared for and housed interesting animals, why not share the experience more often and to a wider audience. Their desire was to expand the community reach and enhance the educational components of the Animal Care program. 

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In the fall semester of 2018, with some advice and encouragement from Dr. Derek Rosenberger, professor of Zoology, they organized a leadership team, and developed a mission statement, handbook, and marketing materials.

In OAO’s first year, the program attracted 30 active members and educated hundreds of people at six large outreach events held at local schools, churches, libraries, and on Olivet’s campus. At Breakthrough Ministries in Chicago, the team educated over 100 students on different reptile species. The Animal Extravaganza, held on Olivet’s campus drew over 250 visitors from both the community and university. One visit to McHenry West High School drew a crowd of 375 students and teachers.

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Many of the events were made possible by the partnership with Olivet’s Office of Church Relations. Craig Manes, director of strategic engagement says of the program, “It has been impressive to witness the outreach team’s creature knowledge, coupled with their contagious zeal for sharing and inspiring others to respect God’s diverse creation. They are helping people of all ages, on campus and in the greater community, to understand that there is a wonder-filled design for our world.”

Dakotah and Tanner both chose to study at Olivet because the university uniquely offers a degree in zoology with a Christian emphasis. They wanted an education that would incorporate a practical knowledge of wildlife, habitats, and preserving the surrounding ecosystems into a Kingdom mindset of caring for creation.

Passionate about caring for animals, Dakotah encourages people to “strive to love and understand all animals as they each uniquely serve an important role in our world’s ecosystems; from the lions, rhino, and polar bears, to the pythons, frogs, and insects and everything in between.” 

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Many of the animals used in the OAO presentations are native to Illinois, but the team has discovered that many people are unaware of their existence. The OAO program strives to promote awareness and protection of these exquisite species. Tanner says, “I love exploring nature and finding things that aren't normally seen – especially reptiles and amphibians – and I'd like to research them in the future.” 

The events have been extremely rewarding for the students. “While showcasing our animals I have learned a lot about the animals themselves, as well as the value of giving the public a chance to interact with some species they have never seen before,” Tanner says. “This program gives us an opportunity to show the public the wonders of creation while emphasizing how important it is to protect and care for the environment.” 

For more information about the Department of Biological Sciences, and other areas of study, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463.
 

Published 5/8/2019