Claire Burch (Class of 2017)

photo of Claire Burch

  • junior Zoology major with an Environmental Science co-major
  • minor in Geography with an international development focus
  • from O'Fallon, IL
  • Treasurer of Miami University's Conservation Team
  • cared for and trained hoofed animals such as zebras at the St. Louis Zoo (summer 2014) and studied giraffes, African painted dogs, and Mexican gray wolves at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo (summer 2015)
  • interned at Missouri's Endangered Wolf Center (January 2016)
"Whenever people ask me, I tell them that of course it has a lot to do with your education, the classes you take, the things you learn. But at the end of day, the experiences you have outside the classroom speak volumes about how you can apply what you've learned."

Why Miami?

"From the beginning of high school, I knew I wanted to study zoology, and Miami is one of the few schools that offered a Zoology major. It's a very animal-focused program, and I really like that. I didn't want to do a general biology major but instead the more animal-oriented courses that Miami offers.

Coming to Miami 6 hours away from my home in Illinois was a big transition. The really great professors and friends I've met made it easier, though, and that has really helped to spur my passion for what I had decided to do and cemented for me that I was on the right track.

"In addition to zoology, I also really loved that Miami offers an Environmental Science co-major, which gave me a chance to incorporate a different perspective on conservation into my major. The conservation movement has a lot to do with environmental science, especially for understanding things like climate change and sustainability. Miami's Environmental Science co-major gave me the opportunity to really tie that factor into my studies. The unique focus of my Geography minor also offers a perspective on global change and development which can also help me to understand the effects of the changing world on our environment and other animals.

"After I graduate, I would like to start off as an animal care professional and then move into the conservation research field. Zoology as my undergraduate degree will really help prepare me to be successful in making that transition. A basic understanding of things like physiology has allowed me to better take care of the animals I have worked with. In order to move into conservation, it's really important to have a grasp on things like genetics, ecology, and different environmental factors in order to work on the research and help ensure the survival of different species in the future."

Guest speaker Dr. Laurel Braitman (center), surrounded by Miami students (Claire Burch in red skirt)

Best Miami Experiences

"One of the girls I had classes with, Jocelynne Samu, restarted the Miami University Conservation Team, and she pulled me on board. I have been the treasurer for that organization for two years now. It's been an incredible experience getting to work on that with her and encouraging other people to join. [Read more about Jocelynne's research in the December 2015 CAS press release Zoology major Jocelynne Samu designs her own research program.]

"I've had a number of great professors who have encouraged me to continue to pursue my passion in zoology and conservation. I picked up my Geography minor because of my intro geography professor, Dr. Susan Jakubowski, after going into her office hours to discuss what the minor would encompass. It will be very applicable to my work in the future, and I wouldn't have discovered it without her encouragement! She demonstrated that she's very interested in what I want to do.

"Another key professor was Dr. David Russell, who was my sponsor for my first internship in the summer of 2014 at the St. Louis Zoo. As a teacher he was super dynamic and passionate about his work, and I wanted the opportunity to work with him outside the classroom. He was very instrumental in helping me make my first internship a real success. There was also Dr. Sarah Dumyahn in the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES). She mentored me through my big internship research project I did at the Brookfield Zoo in summer 2015 and showed an interest in my experience at the zoo as well as my future ambitions.

"Both of these zoo-based internships have definitely continued to spur my passion and love for animals. Getting to work so close to animals and getting to know them was just a really rewarding experience!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"While I'm a science major, I've taken classes outside of the science field that have helped me to not only expand my knowledge, but to also think in different ways and be much more well-rounded. One art history class I took, for example, forced me to use a different kind of critical thinking that I wasn't accustomed to as a science major.

"Last fall I also took an international studies class, one that I probably would've never taken if it wasn't required. I came to realize, however, that I was learning a lot of valuable information that could be applied to the field I want to work in, such as the workings behind global politics and our relationships with other countries.

"The liberal arts have also helped me to expand my horizons by encouraging me to step outside my major into other opportunities at Miami and ways to get involved. The small class sizes are a plus that allow a very personal experience. All of my professors are very committed to my success, and they make sure I know that my success is important to them."

Miami University Conservation Team members (L to R: Mallory Myers, Jocelynne Samu, Claire Burch) participate in a community night fundraiser in an Oxford restaurant.

Wild about Animals: From Childhood Dreams to Competitive Zoo Internships

"I've loved animals since I was a child, and I picked up an interest in conservation of large African mammals at the beginning of high school. It all skyrocketed from there.

"Going into Miami I already had 7 years of experience working at a horse ranch, so when I applied for an internship in summer 2014 at the St. Louis Zoo, they showed that they really liked that I had experience working with big animals. Although I was the youngest intern there, it really reinforced that this was the right kind of work for me. I interned in the zoo's hoofstock (hoofed animals) department, and one awesome experience I had there was assisting with zebra training. The zebras would approach the fence, and I would cue them to touch a target with their nose. This trained behavior allows the keepers or veterinarians to examine their necks and heads. This is instrumental in making different veterinary procedures or daily husbandry tasks less stressful for the animals.

"I had such a great experience at the St. Louis Zoo that this past summer I decided to intern at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo, which is affiliated with the Chicago Zoological Society. The zoo has many connections to a lot of conservation organizations, so the opportunity presented a great way to start networking and get to know organizations outside the zoo atmosphere. I worked with and studied giraffes, African painted dogs, and Mexican gray wolves, including helping with a brand new welfare study of the giraffes. Pedometers were attached to their legs to track their movements throughout the day, and it was incredible being able to participate in this kind of innovative research.

"After two summers of internships, I decided to pursue a position in a different type of animal care environment this January. I interned at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri, working with a variety of species. Two of them, Mexican gray wolves and red wolves, required hands-off care, as they could potentially be re-released in order to help rebuild the North American wild population, which is below 200. It was such a unique and amazing opportunity that turned me into a bit of a handyperson, as I helped build pieces for an indoor enclosure and also installed heated water buckets in outdoor enclosures for the wolves. It was very different from my previous summer internships but just as much fun and interesting.

"One of my favorite aspects of all these experiences was talking about the animals and the conservation movement with the general public. You don't hear a lot about many different species being endangered or in trouble. This is what has really inspired me over the years.

"For instance, there are at least 9 subspecies of giraffes, out of which several are endangered — meaning that they number just over a thousand or so in the wild. This was something I was not familiar with, and it helped to emphasize the public's lack of knowledge about the struggle of many species. I really want to be part of the movement that brings conservation into the forefront, because I don't think people realize how important it is to protect the animals we share the land with. Animals are an instrumental part in keeping the environment healthy.

"With these internships I also learned that every animal has a different personality and that they're smarter than people think. In fact, they're incredibly intelligent and crafty! Having the opportunity to work with various animals and learn more about conservation as part of these three institutions was very encouraging, and I look forward to making education of the general public about the conservation movement as my top priority."

Advice to Students

"Environmental science and zoology are exciting and growing fields, and there are always new things being discovered and new research being done. I would encourage students who are interested in that to be up to date on current events in the field. That personally inspired my passion — you see what is going on in the world, and that inspires you to get involved.

"For zoology and the sciences in general, it's all about experience. The only reason I got my summer internship after my freshman year was because I already had 7 years of experience working with animals. Whenever people ask me, I tell them that of course it has a lot to do with your education, the classes you take, the things you learn. But at the end of day, the experiences you have outside the classroom speak volumes about how you can apply what you've learned.

"Getting those outside experiences, whether in research or study abroad or an internship, is actually lots of fun and very rewarding. They involve a lot of hard work, but they’re never a drag as long as you are learning something new. That's what is exciting for me."

[January 2016]