From the Desk of Dan Ashe

Thank you, AZA interns!

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums provides internship programs that help to expand students' knowledge of our non-profit organization. AZA provides interns with experience through collaborative projects, meetings and workshops, professional networking, and much more. This summer, AZA offered two internship programs: a conservation and science internship, and a communication and marketing internship. The program lasted for three months and we had three terrific interns.

Meet the Interns:

Nastasia Vasconcells was our communications and marketing intern. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, planning to graduate in December. Her major is in English in the communications and technology track. She is interested in using her knowledge of communication and technology to spread awareness about the environment and animal conservation.

Megan Jones was one of the conservation and science interns this summer. She is originally from Chicago, IL. She has a BS in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and a Professional Science Master’s degree in Zoo, Aquarium, and Animal Shelter Management from Colorado State. After this internship, she hopes to find a leadership role in conservation or animal welfare at an AZA-accredited facility.

Cyrena Tate was an intern for the conservation and science internship. She graduated from Florida Southern College with a degree in marine science. After graduation, she accepted an internship with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium where she assisted with animal husbandry. After completing that internship, she accepted an internship with the Smithsonian National Zoological Park as an animal behavior intern and assisted with animal behavior research through witnessing the herd dynamic of seven Asian elephants. She continues to volunteer with the Smithsonian National Zoo.

We asked our interns to answer a few questions about their experience here at AZA.

  1. What is your current role as an intern/what have you been doing for AZA?

Nastasia: “During my communications and marketing internship, I compiled daily news clips for AZA and its members. I created text, graphics, and scheduled for AZA social media platforms on topics such as SAFE species, the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and FrogWatch. I also drafted creative original content which gave me the opportunity for research and blog writing experience on very cool topics.”

Megan: “As  an intern for the Conservation and Science Department,  I wrote a literature review for the Conservation Culture Task Force to provide an idea of what tools are available to help integrate conservation into the culture of our facilities. Cyrena and I were a part of the editing process for Animal Care Manuals, and will have our names published as editors.”

Cyrena: “As an intern for the Conservation and Science Department, I  reviewed and edited process for SAFE annual reports from Program Leaders for publication in AZA’s Connect Magazine. I also worked with Megan to build and create webinars for those interested in joining the SAFE program.”

All three interns worked with me to analyze accredited facilities’ mission statements and confirmed on an overwhelming commitment to conservation among our members. I presented their findings in my opening remarks at the AZA Annual Conference.

  1. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from your time here?

Nastasia: “Experience is important.  There is only so much someone can learn in school and internships are a great middle step from college to ‘real’ work. I learned from incredibly passionate people at a company that helps to make the world a better place through conservation efforts.”

Megan: “Take initiative. I have felt more connected with the AZA community and have gained so much perspective by taking the initiative to talk to people outside of my department. The staff has been so willing to let me craft my own experience and do things to expand my network and skillset.”

Cyrena: “Word choice is important. I never realized how one word can change an entire meaning or perspective to a sentence. Going through editing processes and analyzing mission statements, I learned how much of an impact a single word can make in an entire sentence. Learning this concept has changed my perspective as to how I write and edit my work, and how I break down messaging to determine the purpose/impact of a sentence.”

  1. What was your favorite project to work on?

Nastasia: “My favorite project was creating content for the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. Using information from the WTA website, I  created text and graphics, and scheduled the posts in Meltwater. It is really fulfilling seeing something I made on AZA social platforms, which hundreds of people like, share, and comment on. In my future career, I hope to spread awareness about conservation and this experience gave me excellent practice.”

Megan: “My favorite project to work on was Animal Care Manuals. I can use my animal care and training background to suggest ways to make improvements, and it is exciting that I will be able to have published pieces of writing to add to my resume."

Cyrena: “One of my favorite projects to work on was the SAFE Annual Reports. I was able to read through the reports, highlight the program’s achievements for future blogs, and summarize the programs progress for AZA’s Connect Magazine. Getting to read through all the submitted reports was really interesting because I was able to see the progress each program has made throughout the year and how each small action taken for their program was an even bigger step for species conservation!”

  1. What one surprising thing you learned about AZA?

Nastasia: “Every single employee here is passionate about their work. Every person at AZA is here to spread awareness about animal welfare and conservation and that is inspiring to me.”

Megan: “I have felt very embraced and heard by the leadership team here. One year ago I would have been extremely intimidated to talk to a member of the executive staff, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I am surprised how comfortable and valued I feel here, and I feel like I belong in this community more so than ever before.”

Cyrena: “How such a small group of people makes the biggest difference in one giant field alone. When I first started here I was expecting for AZA to be a huge organization filled with many people in each department, however, it was quite the opposite. Even though there aren’t as many people as expected, the amount of work that gets done and the countless accomplishments that are seen every day is incredible.”

For the first time, AZA interns went to the Annual Conference. We asked them to share information about their experience going to New Orleans, their takeaways, and anything else they learned.

Nastasia: “Megan and I attended accreditation hearings, which was an awesome experience to learn more about the process of becoming an accredited facility. At the general session, Dan presented the intern’s findings of our analysis of our member’s mission statements. It was such an honor to be recognized for our efforts by the CEO. I went to many sessions where I learned a great deal and met many inspiring people.”

Megan: “I got a lot of creative new ideas and perspectives from the sessions I attended. At the Audubon Zoo, I saw nearly the entire vet hospital, the elephant barn, the back of the reptile house, etc. The staff and volunteers were so friendly and welcoming and willing to share. I always feel invigorated, creative, and inspired after getting our community together and sharing ideas.”

Cyrena: “All the seminars I attended were all extremely informative and I felt that I was constantly learning something new. Attending the conference gave me new perspectives on certain topics that I wouldn’t normally think about as well as being able to connect with the AZA community on a wider scale. Being able to attend the conference was one of my most memorable experiences working for AZA and I hope I’m able to attend next year.”

I am thankful to have gotten to know these interns and to have gotten to work with them. We truly appreciate their hard work. If you are looking for an internship at AZA or and AZA-accredited facility visit our job board at

Connect with Nastasia Vasconcells via LinkedIn.

Connect with Megan Jones via LinkedIn.

Posted by Ashley Jones at 9:00 AM

I Accept

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. If you continue using our website, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website and you agree to our Privacy Policy.

Find a Zoo or Aquarium Donate to AZA Contact Us Member Login Search the site