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Dr. Mark Irwin

It’s a Zoo Around Here!

Dr. Mark Irwin has always had a fascination and love of animals. “I grew up on a dairy farm in Ontario, Canada, and I can still remember playing zookeeper school with my brother when we were young, and that love of animals stayed with me as I grew,” he said.  Mark graduated from the University of Guelph, Canada and began working as a seasonal keeper with the Toronto Zoo.  He continued on with his education with veterinary school specializing in zoo animal medicine. Mark came to Watertown in 2001 and worked at North Country Animal Health Center as an associate veterinarian while also working at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park.  It wasn’t until Mark happened to meet Jefferson’s biology professor Dr. Peter Gaskin that teaching even crossed his mind. “I was doing a chemical restraint procedure on an elk at the zoo, when Professor Gaskin asked me to explain the procedure to his animal management students. After finishing he invited me to be a guest speaker in his class and I absolutely loved it; the rest is history,” he said.

Mark began teaching at Jefferson in 2002, and has been surprised at how much he really enjoys teaching his students. “I love both the job and the culture at Jefferson. Teaching has enabled me to connect with so many great people; my students’ enthusiasm, spirit and passion for animals is infectious,” he said.  Mark’s advice to any student who is considering this field is to do your research. “Everyone loves animals, but a career in this field is not for everyone. Volunteering at a zoo is a good way to gain some experience and find out if this is really what you want to do.”  Mark stresses with his students how much hard work is involved in a career like this and how important it is to be able to work with people and communicate well.  Most accredited zoos today require academic degrees and applied zoo keeping experience, and Jefferson’s zoo tech program provides all of this and more.  “Our program is a unique and cost effective route into the competitive field of zoo animal care. We can give our students experience through specialized classroom theory and rare hands-on experiences with wildlife and zoo animals,” he said.  Within this program, Mark’s students have the opportunity to work alongside and network with keepers, zoo managers and other animal care professionals.

Mark recently published his textbook titled Zookeeping: An Introduction to the Science and Technology. This has been a labor of love for Mark and now that it is finished, many colleges will be using Mark’s textbook in their classrooms. “There are only a handful of programs like ours in the United States and we are only now just beginning to synchronize our efforts. Everyone knows what a zookeeper does, but academic pathways have been unclear compared to other professions; that’s why it’s so important for me to continually update and improve our zoo program here at Jefferson and this textbook is a great start.”

Learn more about Jefferson's Zoo Technology A.A.S degree.

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