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USM Center for Community Engagement Honors Hattiesburg Zoo

Wed, 04/19/2023 - 11:20am | By: Van Arnold

For its outstanding contribution in mentoring students at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), the Hattiesburg Zoo has been chosen to receive the 2023 Bruce Van Nostrand Community Partner Award presented by the University’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

The Hattiesburg Zoo will be recognized, along with other community awardees, during a Celebration of Service event on Monday, April 24, from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at USM’s Thad Cochran Center (Room 218).

CCE Director Christy Kayser explains that the Bruce Van Nostrand Community Partner Award salutes an outstanding partner of USM that dedicates time to mentoring and helping students understand community needs and the vital work of community organizations.

“Hattiesburg Zoo exemplifies what it means to be an outstanding partner to USM,” said Kayser. “They have worked alongside us to co-create educational experiences that have a lasting impact on our students as well as on their own programs.”

Gabby Howe serves as Education Programs Coordinator at the Hattiesburg Zoo. In that role, she strives to provide interactive and educational learning experiences for zoo guests. Howe considers the CCE award a distinct honor.

“Our partnership has supported the zoo’s conservation message, while also providing opportunities for students to serve the community,” said Howe. “We look forward to seeing how this program will continue to expand and support future USM students, zoo guests, and the local community.”

Dr. Maria Wallace, Assistant Professor of Science Education at USM’s Center for STEM Education, nominated Hattiesburg Zoo for the award. She points out that approximately 12 students (paid teacher interns and volunteers) have been working with the zoo this semester. The paid teacher interns and graduate students are part of the Jimmy Payne funded Soar into STEMed: Future Teachers & Community Partners program.

“With this support, USM teacher candidates get unique training through our multi-year partnership with the Hattiesburg Zoo that originally started with just one class – SME 432 (Science Methods for Elementary Teachers),” said Wallace, who will be honored with the Outstanding Service-Learning Faculty Award during the April 24 event.

Wallace further notes chances are high that Hattiesburg Zoo patrons are helping prepare future teachers since USM teacher licensure candidates make up a large majority of educational docents working at the zoo. One educational docent from USM typically has a direct impact on advancing science education with an average of 1,500 zoo visitors in one semester.

Jeremy Cumpton, Director of Conservation, Education and Wildlife at the Hattiesburg Zoo, sees the award as an affirmation of the zoo’s commitment to community relations.

“Most people are not aware of how much work goes on behind the scenes and receiving this award is confirmation that hard work does pay off,” he said. “This award signifies another step in the Hattiesburg Zoo’s path to set the standard of excellence.”

Added Cumpton: “Partnerships are one of the ways for an organization to grow. By making these partnerships with local groups, we are able to better serve our community by pooling our resources for the betterment of Mississippi. Engaging USM students in the STEM program has allowed the students to see first-hand how important conservation education is for all ages, as well as learning teaching strategies to help in this endeavor.”

Kayser emphasizes that partnerships like the Hattiesburg Zoo collaboration represent a fundamental aspect of the CCE’s mission.

“Service-learning can be transformational for university students as they experience how skills and knowledge learned in the classroom function in an authentic setting,” said Kayser. “However, this transformation cannot happen without community partners who are willing to work with our students as co-educators. Partners like the Hattiesburg Zoo commit tremendous time and effort to provide seamless, educational experience for our students.”

To learn more about the Center for Community Engagement, please visit their website or call 601.266.5074.