Many young children dream of working with animals when they grow up. OTC graduate Lauren Sweet is living that dream. She doesn’t work with dogs, cats or even horses. Her animal of choice can grow to be 20 feet tall and weigh as much as a ton. Lauren is an assistant zookeeper and giraffe trainer at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield.
“I dreamed about working at a zoo but I never dreamed of working with giraffes,” said Lauren, who graduated from OTC last May with her general transfer degree.
While she was homeschooled for 12 years, Lauren would take trips to the zoo and the Springfield Nature Center with her mother. When she was 12, she volunteered at Wonders of Wildlife in Springfield.
“I worked in the education center when it offered public programs. I loved working with the kids,” she said.
Lauren attended OTC to take her general education courses. She knew right away that OTC was the place for her.
“It was very important for me to stay out of debt and get a really good education. And that’s why OTC was the perfect choice,” she said.
Lauren’s duties at the zoo include working with different animals depending on which zookeepers need assistance that day in either the South American, Australian or African areas of the zoo. She feeds animals in the morning and evening, cleans stalls and yards, does basic landscaping work, builds animal exhibits, and moves and weighs the animals.
In her role as giraffe trainer, Lauren teaches the animals to respond to stimuli like a ball on a stick that they must touch with their noses. When they complete the task successfully, Lauren gives the giraffes food to reward their behavior.
“You can’t not be happy around giraffes. Anytime I work with them, they are happy to see me. So majestic,” she said.
Ken Harmon, senior zookeeper at the Dickerson Park Zoo said Lauren always “greets everyone with a smile and a positive, enthusiastic attitude, which is refreshing. She is always willing to help.”
No matter what is asked of her in her job at the zoo, Lauren is quick to oblige and does so with a smile. “I’m getting paid to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing. I love my job,” Lauren said.
And Lauren, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Missouri State, was able to make her dream come true by earning her transfer degree at OTC.
“It’s a no brainer,” Lauren said. “If you’re looking to save money and get your dream job, OTC is the place to go.”