Jolene Westerling had no idea what to expect before her internship started on New Year’s Day at the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park in Waddell. But from day one, the Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) student knew it was going to be something special.
“When I got here, I remember the first day I got in the van, Kristy [Morcom] said, ‘I’m so sorry about the smell, I’ve had a warthog in here for two days,’ and I just knew in that moment that this was going to be amazing,” Westerling said. “Every day is incredible. Every day, I go home and can’t stop talking about my day.”
Morcom, who is the zoo’s director of media relations and Westerling’s direct supervisor, shares her protégé’s sentiment.
“She’s amazing,” Morcom said. “She’s the greatest, and I don’t want this internship to ever end. I hope this internship is able to turn into a career working at Wildlife World with us.”
Westerling is in her second semester and studying photography. When she enrolled at EMCC, she had ambitions of becoming a portrait photographer, but this internship has already changed that.
“Since coming here, now I’m hoping I can stay here,” Westerling said of the zoo. “I didn’t even know this job existed. I mean, twenty minutes ago, I had a warthog on my lap.”
She said she loves being able to interact with all of the zoo’s various animals, but she has a special place in her heart for Bon Bon, a baby llama.
“I love Bon Bon,” Westerling said. “She was born on New Year’s Day, and I started on New Year’s Day, so I feel like we have this connection.”
To say Westerling’s responsibilities at the zoo are varied would be an understatement.
“She kind of does a little bit of everything,” Morcom said. “She helps me with media and will help me go to the TV stations, help me with the animals, help me talk to everyone in the studio. She is very smart, so she knows a lot about the animals, and she listens, so she can also answer questions.”
Morcom said Westerling is also helping with a guidebook to celebrate the zoo’s 35th anniversary, which takes place in September. The guidebook, which will be sold in the gift shop, will contain photos of some of Wildlife World’s animals, along with information on them, as well as historical facts about the zoo and its conservation efforts.
“We’re getting some really amazing pictures from her that we’ll be able to include in the book,” Morcom said.
Westerling credits Lorenzo Fuentes, aquarist and chief photographer at the zoo, for helping her hone her photography skills. She said Fuentes has helped her better understand depth of field and how to take pictures through a fence without being able to see the chainlink.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” she said, adding he’s also been working with her on the photo imaging programs Lightroom and Photoshop.
EMCC has been sending the zoo interns since 2008. In fact, the zoo was one of the college’s first internship partners. Now, more than 100 different internships are available to EMCC students. Internships help students gain professional skills and self-confidence; test out a career field; build their resumes; gather insight into a particular industry or organizational culture; and establish connections and build a network of contacts. Internships typically last one semester but may be extended up to a year.
The internship application process is very competitive, said Allie Cervantes, Student Services Specialist, Sr. - Internship Program. “It’s mirrored like a typical job application process,” she said.
Cervantes maintains contact with every student throughout his or her internship process.
“They are required to complete daily logs of what they did in their internship,” she said. “At the end of the internship, they are required to complete a reflection paper and an evaluation of their experience.”
To view a complete list of available internships through EMCC, visit https://www.estrellamountain.edu/students/internships. Students who are interested in participating in an internship are encouraged to email Cervantes at email@example.com or call 623-935-8741.