WV Press Videos

New WV zoo science program one of four in US

Photo contributed to Weirton Daily Times Joe Greathouse, assistant professor of biology at West Liberty University, shows WLU student Katie Scott how to handle a hawk at Oglebay's Good Zoo in Wheeling.
Photo contributed to Weirton Daily Times
Joe Greathouse, assistant professor of biology at West Liberty University, shows WLU student Katie Scott how to handle a hawk at Oglebay’s Good Zoo in Wheeling.

WEIRTON, W.Va. — Joe Greathouse knows there’s more to working with animals than loving animals.

It takes skill, training and a specialized education.

The New Cumberland native hopes that a new degree program at West Liberty University – a program that he helped develop – will better prepare students for careers involving animals.

The Zoo Science Program, a collaboration between West Liberty and Oglebay’s Good Zoo in Wheeling, is the result of years of preparation by Greathouse and is one of only four such programs in the country.

The degree program was announced in January and is accepting applicants for the fall semester.

“One of the biggest challenges in hiring a new zoo keeper (is that) when students graduate with a typical biology or zoology degree, they don’t have any applied animal handling or care skills,” Greathouse said. “Our program aims to give those students at least six months’ hands-on and classroom experience that’s directly aimed at training them to handle animals in a zoo setting.”

Graduates of the new four-year program will earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a zoo science major, and will be prepared to work in the field of accredited zoo and aquarium management, he said.

In addition to their classroom work, students will do a 10-week summer internship at an accredited zoo between their sophomore and junior year, and will complete two semesters interning at the Good Zoo, where Greathouse once supervised interns. The only West Virginia zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Good Zoo is home to 70 species, including 22 that are rare or endangered.

It was while working there as animal curator from 2002 to 2012 that Greathouse, 40, began brainstorming about a program in West Virginia that would do a better job of preparing students for animal-related careers – using the strengths of a local zoo.

“It was something we were looking at doing years ago, when I was at the Good Zoo, but we just couldn’t bring it together,” he said.

“This has been a dream of ours for some time,” said Good Zoo Director John Hargleroad. “We’re happy to be a player in this.”

Hargleroad credited Greathouse for being the spark behind the collaboration.

“It was Joe’s coming on the faculty at West Liberty, and his desire and drive, that made this happen,” he said. “He helped orchestrate this and really brought it together.”

Greathouse and his brother, Cory, grew up enjoying being around animals through the influence of their parents, Bill and Sally Greathouse.

“My parents always took my brother and me to the zoo. We did a lot of outdoor activities,” he said.

Greathouse graduated from Weirton Madonna High School in 1994 and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at West Virginia University. It was from WVU that he also earned his master’s in wildlife and fisheries resources management and his doctorate in animal and nutrition sciences.

He started working at Oglebay’s Good Zoo as an animal keeper in 1999 and as manager of animal husbandry in 2000. After serving as animal curator for 10 years, he worked as director of wildlife ecology at The Wilds, a conservation center affiliated with the Columbus Zoo, from 2012 to 2015.

Upon completing his doctorate, he was hired as assistant professor of biology at West Liberty in August 2015.

Greathouse developed the curriculum for the Zoo Science Program with fellow biology professors Zachary Loughman and Karen Kettler, and College of Sciences Dean Robert Kreisberg. Greathouse and Loughman are co-directors of the program.

Students in the Zoo Science Program will be able to get their degree at West Liberty, a state school, for $90,000 to $100,000 less than private school programs.

“None of (the other programs) have the level of on-site, hands-on experience that these students will receive,” Hargleroad said. “They will do internships and practicums at the zoo. They will have classes at the zoo. They will be engaged in research with animals here.”

Graduates will be qualified to be veterinary assistants and technicians; laboratory animal caretakers; zoo and aquarium animal keepers, curators and research biologists; animal trainers; keepers and managers at sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation facilities and nature centers; and managers within the pet care industry.

The U.S. Department of Labor has projected a 15 percent growth rate in such job markets through 2022, Greathouse said.

(Huba can be contacted at [email protected])

To read more from the Weirton Daily Times, subscribe here.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address