Most college graduates find jobs in familiar places, such as near their homes or some- where surrounding their respective school.
Not 2012 Mason graduate Kendall Bilbrey. In a few weeks, she will be participating in her first post-college internship at the Chengdu Panda Base in Chengdu, China.
While there, she will be conducting behavioral research on red pandas for four months.
Bilbrey attributes this opportunity to her experience at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. “Without my skills and knowledge I received at SMSC, I would not be where I am today,” said Bilbrey, who graduated with a degree in Integrative Studies with concentration in conservation studies from Mason’s New Century College.
Mason joined efforts with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology (SCBI) Institute in 2008 to establish the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC).
SMSC opened their brand new, eco-friendly facility this past fall. This school is the only one of its kind.
This school offers a type of education that regular universities cannot. “This school allows students to be totally immersed in all aspects of education,” said Alonso Aguirre, executive Director of the Smithsonian-Mason school of conservation and associate profes- sor of Environmental Science and Policy.
“The school itself provides a very hands- on approach to the practices of conservation biology,” Belbrey said. “The subject by nature is integrative, meaning that many different aspects of biology, ecology, wildlife manage- ment, public policy, sociology, economics, and education all come together to create a discipline to conserve and preserve the natural world.”
Students take 5 classes and one practicum, resulting in 16 credit hours for the semester. They are in class from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, according to Aguirre, approximately 60 percent of their class time is spent either in the field or lab.
“Last semester we spent a lot of time outside,” said Dr. Jim McNeil, assistant professor of conservation studies. “We connect the work in the field to theory in the classroom and learn the explicit things we can do in the environment to impact behavior.” As the weather warms up for the spring semester, McNeil plans to move more classes outside.
Students participate in an array of field studies, from surveying plant and animal populations in the local area to learning about animal management practices in the field and in captivity.
The practicum portion offers students “mini-internship” opportunities. These include working alongside the animal keepers and in the labs with SCBI scientists. Bilbrey assisted at the San Diego Zoo in grant research and administrative tasks, where she was also able to build her professional network.
Each student is paired with a mentor. Students work alongside their mentors during the practicum, gaining first-hand knowledge of the mentor’s concentration work.
“Every day is different. We give students a variety of learning tools unique to this school,” Aguirre said. “Our education program is very experimental.”
This school began as an initiative to become the best conservation program out there. It also aims to guarantee a bright future for the environment.
“We want to expose students to a more practical way of learning, while creating the next generation of conservational leaders,” Aguirre said.
The partnership between Mason and SCBI is very strong. While the federal government owns the land on which the Smithsonian- Mason schools sits, Mason provided the funding to build the school.
“It is a great partnership with Mason and will afford students a one-of-a-kind opportunity to work side by side with researchers from around the world who are doing work that is so important as our planet becomes more and more fragile,” said Julia Huntly, a student at Mason studying conservation biology who has volunteered at SMSC.
This program is treated similarly to study abroad programs. Students from any school, not just Mason, and in any major may attend.
To apply, there is a prerequisite of at least 45 college credit hours. The school offers a number of scholarships to its students.
SMSC is located in the center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which itself is a world leader in conservation studies.
“We house several endangered species and develop new techniques for species survival and preservation through the brilliant staff and students here. It truly is an international hub for learning and training in the field of conservation,” Bilbrey said.
The program is currently taking applications for the upcoming fall and spring semesters. The application can be found at sms.gmu.edu.