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Meet Rhiannon Schultz of San Diego Zoo Global

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rhiannon Schultz.

Rhiannon, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My story starts in a tiny town in South Dakota. When I say tiny I mean there were 42 people that lived there, and every single one of them must have thought I was crazy when I moved away to California to pursue a degree studying primates.

Of course, they were rather used to my relative eccentricities by then, having experienced me as a child. I was a scientist nearly from birth, and if you ask my mother, to this day, she will tell you that my favorite phrase as a child was, “but why?” This I am sure drove her and everyone else completely berserk, but the drive to learn was a hunger that I couldn’t feed fast enough.

I soothed this knowledge obsession with books. I collected them with a fury and used them as windows into new worlds and ideas that I could access in an instant. My best adventures were taking books with me into the vast nature that surrounded our house. I would take a book about rocks or insects and go for hours trying to identify everything that I found.

Later, this pursuit of learning and adventuring into the natural world led me to attend university in San Diego and to start my career with the San Diego Zoo. Talk about a place conducive to learning and science, San Diego has so much to offer that once I got here for college, I stuck around to keep exploring!

Has it been a smooth road?
Getting to where I am now has definitely had its hurdles to jump and ladders to climb along the way. For a start, college isn’t cheap, and my parents have seven other children, so although they were supportive in my venture of furthering my education, the bill was on me so to speak. So during school, I worked full-time and was a full-time student.

Sometimes I had a regular job and an additional side-job so I could cover tuition; sometimes I took on more than full-time status at school so I could graduate on an expedited schedule and pay less tuition in the long term. I relied on my passion for what I was studying, some hard work, a trusty day planner, and a sprinkling of student loans to get through.

This is a story that I think is becoming more and more common in this country. But here I am now with my Master’s degree, and I don’t think I would change any of it looking back. Struggling builds us tremendously, and I am incredibly privileged to have attended school at all.

Now, as I build my career in a field that I am passionate about, I am grateful for the experience that moving to San Diego and learning to grow here has given me.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I currently work for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, which is the research arm of San Diego Zoo Global. I am on the Community Engagement Team, serendipitously giving me the opportunity to spread my passion for learning and nature to others. It is quite literally my job to get people excited about conservation by using science and exploration.

Every year my team’s lab engages over 5,000 students from San Diego and LA county, and our curriculum and materials reach another 7,500 students around the country. We have also hosted more than 1,200 teachers from around the US and 19 other countries in our Teacher Workshops in Conservation Science program. Part of our team also works with communities in other countries on community-based conservation initiatives. We even collaborate with Miami University to host a graduate degree program, the Advanced Inquiry Program.

San Diego Zoo Global, as a whole, is an amazing place to work. The organization not only maintains the highest standards of animal care but is also home to some of the most innovative scientific and conservation work in the world. We are actively working on over 140 different conservation projects in 35 different countries, saving species right here at home and across the globe. Being a part of that mission is something that inspires me every day.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
San Diego is great in that there is something for everyone. Don’t get me wrong; this city can be a challenge. Surviving in a place where the “cheap rent” would be considered a hefty mortgage in other places isn’t always going to be easy, but if you can channel a little bit of determination and a lot of creativity you can thrive here. I firmly believe that great minds flock to San Diego. You can find artists, freethinkers, outdoorsy-types, indoorsy-types, technology buffs, and of course the sciencey ones.

This is great for me because the “but why” part of me still burns today, and much to the chagrin of my husband, my book collecting has continued with gusto. Long exceeding available shelf-space, the piles of books and potential sit in stacks about our house, waiting to be read or again revisited. I think San Diego has the same piles of potential. You just have to know where to look.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Haylie Canfield; Josie Fox; Victoria Dunch; Kimberly Kutina

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