Forest Park Zoo wins third national award for education programming

SPRINGFIELD – For the third time in as many years, The Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center has been nationally recognized for its innovative education programs.

On Thursday, Oct. 19, The Zoo received the Educational Award of Excellence from the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) for its zookeeper internship program.

The program combines classroom and hands-on learning in a way that creates a well-rounded internship experience for college-aged students. In addition to providing basic care for the 225-plus animals that call The Zoo their home, interns also participate in a 12-week professional development curriculum and complete a capstone project.

“The keeper internship provides college students an opportunity to participate in professional development that includes scholarly articles and educational videos relevant to a weekly topic,” said Caroline Cay Adams, director of education at The Zoo. 

Weekly topics are selected by The Zoo’s education and animal care teams and cover a wide range of themes in the field of zoological studies. The program culminates with the Enrichment Capstone Project, in which participants research a species to create an enrichment item based on the animal’s individual needs. Enrichment is an important component of an animal’s daily care and aims to provide mental or physical stimulation by encouraging natural behaviors.

“Seeing the interns combine what they’ve learned about a species’ natural behaviors with their own creativity to provide the animals with physiological exercise and psychological stimulation is rewarding for the animals and people at the zoo,” said Gina Sciartilli-Jorud, The Zoo’s animal care manager. “I’m proud to offer these opportunities that inspire forward-thinking about animal wellness for up-and-coming animal care professionals.”

In December 2021, The Zoo won the same award for its creation and implementation of the Kids Go Wild program and in August 2021, The Zoo’s director of education, Caroline Adams, received the Janet McCoy Excellence in Public Education Award from the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZ) for her work on Kids Go Wild.

“We are so honored to have won these three education-related awards,” said Adams. “It showcases the importance of education within our organization. And this newest award represents an incredible collaboration between our amazing education and animal care teams.”

Internships at The Zoo in Forest Park are offered in the fall and spring semesters, as well as summer break. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. While the program is most popular with biology, animal science, pre-veterinary and environmental studies majors, there is no requirement as to the field of study for those applying. Interested individuals can fill out an application on The Zoo’s website at