A career path beyond wildest expectations: from intern to full-time employee at the Zoological Society of Milwaukee

Martinson with giraffes

When Samantha Martinson was a student at Marquette University, majoring in Secondary Education and Writing-Intensive English, she happened upon a flyer for the WAICU Nonprofit Internship Program and learned about a paid internship position at the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM). Though her major had nothing to do with the natural sciences, she was interested in the opportunity to work in a summer educational program for children.

“They viewed the science aspect as something you could learn on the job,” said Martinson. “And with a biologist for a mom and a chemist for a dad, an appreciation for the sciences rubbed off on me,” she joked.

The internship

Martinson teaching class

Martinson teaches classes for the Animal Connections Continuum program at the Zoo.

Patty Trinko, Assistant Director of Conservation Education at ZSM, emphasized that she looks for intern candidates who are well-rounded leaders with strong interpersonal skills. The education department employs 20 interns who assist in its summer camps which offer up to 40 different topics for a variety of age groups.

Interns are integral to the success of the summer program, and the department takes great care to foster a supportive environment for the growth and professional development of its interns.

An internship at ZSM begins with two weeks of intensive training. Interns receive hands-on training at the Zoo as well as guidance on work-related topics ranging from conflict resolution to child management techniques. Throughout her internship, Martinson received “in-the-moment” tips on her interactions with children as well as bi-weekly feedback on her assigned journal reflections. “Receiving constructive feedback enabled me to feel connected to my supervisors, valued for the work I was doing, and encouraged to improve both personally and professionally,” she recalled.

Putting classroom knowledge into practice

Samantha Martinson with kids at ZSM

As Martinson progressed as an intern each summer, it aligned with her grade-level and experience at Marquette University.

Internships are becoming a staple of a college education. “The rigor of my majors and the planning skills I gained at Marquette definitely prepared me for the high-intensity internship at the Zoo,” said Martinson. In turn, she felt that her practical experience enabled her to contribute more to her classroom discussions when she resumed her classes the fall after her first internship. The experiences complimented each other so well that she continued on with two additional summer internships at the Zoological Society, each with increasing responsibility.

Before her semester of student teaching in the Milwaukee Public School System, Martinson had already been teaching in the classroom at the Zoo for summer camps for three months. Her prior experience set her up for incredible success as a student teacher. Her confidence, student behavior management techniques, and receptiveness to feedback from the lead teacher all positioned her to be able to take the reins in the classroom – something that many new student teachers are not ready to do.

After graduation

Martinson enjoyed teaching in the classroom setting, but she felt drawn to the informal sector of education. As a response to interest from students like Martinson, Marquette has launched a new major in Educational Studies, which is geared toward students pursuing careers in nonprofit organizations rather than K-12 schools.

After graduation, Martinson worked for multiple regional and nationally-known theaters in Milwaukee and on the East Coast. She said that at its core, theater represents humanity and fosters empathy for others. Samantha has taught a range of arts-integrated curricula, ranging from exploring social justice issues to literacy development. Her passion for helping others develop self-awareness and express themselves drives her as an educator.

Martinson remained in touch with Trinko, her supervisor from the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. Years later, they reconnected through a mutual hobby:  rock climbing. When a full-time position opened up at the Zoological Society, Trinko immediately thought of Martinson and encouraged her to apply.

The bridge back to the Zoological Society

It was important to Trinko that the role and the timing were a good match not only for ZSM, but also for Martinson. It ended up being an ideal fit for both – Martinson was excited to take on a new challenge and work for an organization that has a positive impact on the Milwaukee community. Martinson now works as a co-coordinator and educational specialist for the Animal Connections Continuum (ACC) program. The goal of the program is for youth to develop empathy for animals and others. Martinson has a talent for bridging the gap between science and the humanities, and she was brought on board full-time to help integrate empathetic tools with science concepts.

“Samantha was one of our first interns and has continued to impress us as a full-time staff person,” said Trinko. “I am so grateful that the WAICU Nonprofit Internship Program helped Samantha find so much success.”

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