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Zoo Science master’s degree program an online winner

WEST LIBERTY — New rankings on the Guide to Online Schools website earned West Liberty University’s Zoo Science master’s programs a top spot. The website highlights schools across the nation that have programs with the best long-term career outcomes.

West Liberty University has the only master’s degree program in the nation focused exclusively on animal husbandry, conservation, and behavior specifically as it pertains to the study of Zoo Science.

“Our master’s in biology programs offer students a great return on investment and a chance to enter a field that is growing. Our academics are challenging and the biology faculty are considered experts in their fields,” said Karen Kettler, dean of WLU’s College of Sciences.

For example, Zachary “Zac” Loughman, associate professor of biology, co-biology graduate program director, and zoo science and applied conservation coordinator is a former West Virginia professor of the year.

While his field-based research focuses on the natural history and conservation of North American crayfish, his zoo science graduate students he has advised have studied diverse topics ranging from the role of empathy in conservation education, husbandry strategies for sea and river otters, to better understanding welfare issues associated with snake husbandry.

At present, Loughman is building a laboratory focused solely on husbandry strategies directly linked to conservation outcomes for snakes.

“One of the most lucrative aspects of this degree is that professionals in the field can maintain their jobs and pursue an advanced degree. Individuals that learned late in their undergraduate degree that they wanted to pursue a career in an AZA-accredited zoo can pursue our degree remotely, or on campus and garner experience through internships needed to land a position in one of these facilities.” Loughman said.

At present West Liberty University faculty are collaborating with zoos and aquariums on several research projects.

On-campus facilities continue to grow along with the major and include four main animal care labs that house more than 200 individual reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and mammals.

“One-hundred percent of the initial class for the zoo science graduate degree are currently employed in zoos or other conservation facilities, two of which ascertained jobs while pursuing their masters, and we know that the degree played heavily in them be awarded their positions,” Loughman said.

Currently, the faculty for this degree is comprised of zoo professionals as well as Loughman and Diana Barber, both full-time faculty at West Liberty University.

“It is important to be able to offer real world experience to our graduate students. For example, the students that are about to graduate helped write an Animal Care Manual for the AZA that should go up for review later this year,” Barber said. “Connecting with the AZA community helps our students do better research and improves their job prospects when they graduate.”

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