Smythe spent summer working in wildlife habitats
August 21, 2009

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Sharon giving Yonnie the bear a snack
Junior biology major Sharon Smythe has always been an animal-lover, so her academic choices at Bryan and hard work to earn good grades have been the first steps on her path towards pursuing a career that will allow her to work with animals. That path took a turn this summer when she responded to the advice her academic advisor, Dr. Steve Barnett, gave her when he said that “although they help, it's not good grades that matter most in the scientific world, but experience.” So this summer she set out, as she tells it, to begin “racking up experience points.”

She applied and was hired to work at Grandfather Mountain, one of the world’s most environmentally diverse nature preserves, located in Linville, N.C. In addition to the nature walks and hiking trails, Nature Museum, Mile-High Swinging Bridge, and Gift Shops, Grandfather Mountain has created a sort of “nature haven” for natural life native to the area around Grandfather Mountain, including black bears, white-tailed deer, bald eagles, golden eagles, cougars, and river otters.
Left to right:  Sharon's hand and Kodiak's nose; Wilma the bald eagle; Nakita the cougar
 
Sharon described her job in the Wildlife Habitats as “one of the greatest jobs around”—especially the part when she got "to play with" the cougars and otters and bears and to teach visitors about the animals. Sharon described a typical day’s schedule like this: “cleaning dens, morning feedings, cleaning the habitats, talking to visitors, cleaning various habitat ponds, weedeating and doing other general maintenance, cleaning animal dishes, afternoon feedings, cleaning any tools used in the morning, more talking to visitors, end-of-the-day cleaning, evening feedings, and finishing the day with last-minute clean-up on the paths or in the office.”

View from the black bear habitat
Sharon and the other habitat employees were on their feet continually trying to keep up with the never-ending work list. “But,” Sharon responded, “everything was totally worth it when a cougar would rub up against the fence to be scratched, or the otters would jump up in response to the sound of our voices, or someone would walk away with a new sense of appreciation for an animal they had never really thought about before.”

Sharon summarized her experience by saying, “This summer became much more than a big checkmark on my college to-do list—it became life experience. I will never again underestimate the worth of working with diligence and meticulous care in these habitat environments, and I deeply respect my managers who are committed to their work to create and maintain environmental habitats for native wildlife. In the midst of my carrying out the often mundane daily tasks of my job, all I had to do was look up into the face of a happy animal or the bright eyes of an excited kid and know…yeah, this job was awesome.”