George Mason University’s Mason Center for Conservation Studies is working alongside the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute at its facility in Front Royal to help save endangered species and offer students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on conservation experience working with endangered species.

According to Smithsonian-Mason Global Conservation Studies Program Executive Director Alonso Aguirre, construction on an academic center containing offices for faculty and staff, classrooms and laboratories got underway in late June 2011 and is projected to be finished by August 2012.

In addition, student dorms with 60 bedrooms housing up to 120 Mason students enrolled in the program.

Aguirre believes that students will benefit greatly from participating in the partnership, which began with a 2010 agreement to initiate the Smithsonian-Mason Global Conservation Studies Program.

“This has been a life-changing experience for most of the undergraduates that have taken a semester,” Aguirre said.

“They come in not knowing what they want to do … and after taking a semester, it really opens up a new world to them.”

Aguirre added that this is a very unique opportunity for undergraduate students, saying that there are few, if any, universities in the world that offer these types of experiences to undergraduate students.

The Smithsonian facility at Front Royal houses a wide range of animals, including about 25 species of endangered animals, such as black-footed ferrets, Mongolian horses and clouded leopard.

“[Students can gain] hands-on experience in feeding a crane, running a blood test on a panda in a veterinary clinic and doing hormone tests on urine matter from a leopard. It’s a very unique, hands-on experience,” Aguirre said.

Students are able to get very close to the animals with the assistance of an animal keeper or veterinarian and, with the appropriate protective clothing, can even touch the animals and aid in their care.

Students who are interested in subjects such as conservation biology, ecology and veterinary science are usually most interested in the collaboration.

Aguirre encouraged any student interested in these topics to consider participating in the program.

According to the Mason Center for Conservation Studies website, students wishing to apply for the fall 2012 semester must submit an online application by March 2012.

Students will receive notification of their admission by April 1 and will have to pay an enrollment deposit of $500 by July 1.

Interested students should contact for more information.