Heather Downing

Seasonal Zookeeper at Brookfield Zoo

 linkedin

Heather Downing with dolphin

"I grew up in the state of Indiana and was kind of going in blind when trying to break into this career field.  My academic advisor suggested I apply for the Dolphin Quest Hawaii internship.  After  learning more about the internship program, I decided to go for it!  It ended up being one of the best decisions I made for my career, and I learned more than I ever thought possible."


What was your major/minor at Purdue and when did you graduate?

I graduated in May 2011, with a BS in Biological Sciences, focusing in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology.  My minors were Spanish and Psychology.


What drove you to pursue your current career path?

Since I can remember, I have always been fascinated by sea life, especially marine mammals.  I was always excited to learn more about marine species, and that enthusiasm stuck with me throughout life.  Going to zoos and aquariums as a child inspired me to become a caretaker for these animals, and my internship experiences confirmed that this is what I wanted to do with my life.


What did you do in the year immediately after graduating?

I began an internship at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, Florida in June 2011, right after graduating.  In August 2011, I interviewed for a job at Brookfield Zoo, Seven Seas, and was offered the position.  I have been at Seven Seas ever since.


Was there one person at Purdue who shifted the course of your career?

Growing up in the state of Indiana, and not knowing many marine mammal trainers (well, not any), I was kind of going in blind when trying to break into this career field.  I researched online, and knew I needed hands on experience with marine mammals to land a job, but didn’t know quite how to go about it or where to start.  Then, I met with my academic advisor, Rex Fodrea.  He hadn’t had many students who wanted to go down this path, but he mentioned one student that had interned at Dolphin Quest Hawaii and really enjoyed it.  After learning more about the internship program, I decided to go for it!  It ended up being one of the best decisions I made for my career, and I learned more than I ever thought possible.  I probably wouldn’t have found out about the program nor had the courage to pursue it without Rex.


Did you pursue internships/co-ops, research experiences, volunteer, or join student organizations while you attended Purdue?

I completed the requirements for honors research in Dr. Bickham’s lab, researching genetic markers in Bowhead whale populations.  I also participated in two internship opportunities during the summer; Dolphin Quest Hawaii in Waikoloa, Hawaii, and Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, Florida.  I also enjoyed volunteering through the Boiler Volunteer Network, College of Science Ambassadors, “Ayuda y Aprende” with the Spanish department, and at Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette.  All of these activities helped me to get more than a degree, they helped me to be a part of things I’m passionate about.  These activities also look great on a resume, and can help you stand out to potential employers in a sea of very qualified applicants.  Internships are paramount to getting a paid job in the marine mammal field, so I knew I needed them to succeed, and Purdue helped me to obtain those opportunities.


What would you tell students about how to make the best use of what Purdue offers?

Take advantage of all college has to offer! With literally hundreds of clubs, research labs, student activities, and fun things that Purdue has to do, you can try all kinds of new things.  Doing well in classes is important, but so is meeting new people and enjoying your time here!  Plus, the things that you’re passionate about are what will make you shine to potential employers.

Purdue University College of Science, 150 N. University St, West Lafayette, IN 47907 • Phone: (765) 494-1729, Fax: (765) 494-1736

Student Advising Office: (765) 494-1771, Fax: (765) 496-3015 • Science IT, (765) 494-4488

© 2015 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact the College of Science Webmaster.