Career Corner: Volunteen with Malini
Name: Malini Desai
Position Title: Volunteen
Education: Galloway School (High School),
Looking at Duke, UGA, Colorado State, and Rice
Length of time at Zoo Atlanta: 3 years
Tell us about your job and any projects you are working on.
Right now, I am working on a lot of things: college applications, studying for the end of semester exams, coaching volleyball, running a mentoring program, and volunteering at Zoo Atlanta through the Volunteen Program. At Zoo Atlanta, I interact with and educate the public about conservation opportunities, animals and their habitats, and threats their wild counterparts face; more recently, I got hands-on opportunities working in the Animal Nutrition Kitchen alongside the Zoo Atlanta team.
Additionally, my status as a third-year member of the Volunteen Program has allowed me to be involved in Petting Zoo husbandry and volunteer in more administrative aspects of the program, such as creating surveys and helping plan new professional development events for Volunteens to attend.
What attracted you to this field?
Ever since I was little, I have had a love for animals. I watched the Crocodile Hunter and E-Vet interns every single night. Experience with my own pets allowed me to see that I had a passion for veterinary medicine, a passion which has only grown over the years.
During my freshman year, I was volunteering at an animal hospital that specialized in exotics, and I learned about the opportunity to volunteer at the Zoo through my college advisor. Since I already knew that I loved working with exotic animals, I thought that I should apply to the program and get as much experience as possible. I applied the next day and have been volunteering there ever since.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?
I had an unexpected conversation with a Zoo guest at the tiger habitat that lasted for just over 30 minutes. He started by asking basic questions about Sumatran tigers, and as we spoke he became enthralled by the hardships wild tigers face and so I explained some of the conservation actions we all can take to preserve their species.
By the end of our interaction, he had downloaded the sustainable palm oil app and put all his spare change in the coin collection bin by the habitat. I was amazed by the sizable impact I could have on one person.
What prepared you for your job?
I spent a lot of time working with animals throughout my middle school and high school career, working in animal hospitals, volunteering at animal shelters, and shadowing veterinarians. These experiences really prepared me to be able to talk about the animals at the Zoo because they heightened my passion for working in the conservation field.
However, a lot of what I need at the Zoo is a willingness to learn and a positive attitude. I know that sounds pretty cheesy, but the staff are always willing to help you learn and succeed, so all you really need to do is be willing to take their advice. Also, the week of Volunteen Training at the beginning of the program teaches you everything you need to know about the animals at the Zoo, and hands-on experience will help teach you the rest.
What advice would you give to students interested in becoming a Zoo Volunteen?
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Volunteen and you are 14 and older, register on the Zoo’s website for Volunteen Preview Night on January 17. If you like what you see, then you should complete the program application on Zoo Atlanta’s website by February 1.
However, if you are younger than 14 and still interested in the program, get some experience with animals and public service! It will help your application and help you thrive in the program. The Zoo also offers a program for students ages 8-13 to volunteer with a parent or guardian called the J.O.E.Y. Volunteer program to get started even sooner!