A portion of Courtney's winning essay:
It started in 6th grade. An assigned project acted as a catalyst to stimulate my curiosity and launch me into a scientific discovery of marine animals. Researching the plight of the endangered manatee brought forth a desire in me to learn all that I could about these gentle "sea cows" and to somehow contribute to their protection as well as the protection of animals
as a whole. As a birthday gift that year, my parents "adopted" Amanda, the manatee, through the Homosassa Springs, "Save the Manatee" program and took me to Florida to visit her.
Over the years there have been many issues regarding the protection of this endangered species. I have actively corresponded with congressmen and the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, where
the largest manatee population is, to voice my opinion about laws pertaining to the Florida manatee. My "quiet" attitude toward learning became pro active. My shyness was soon overcome by the desire to know more and to do more. Vacations to Sea World and EPCOT in Orlando, Florida gave me opportunities for first hand study of the animals of the ocean.
During one visit to Sea World, I approached one of the trainers with questions, and the
next day at 6:00 am I found myself in a wet suit scrubbing and bottle-feeding a baby manatee! It was the chance of a lifetime for me to experience the various aspects of marine animal care and learn from those who do this for a living. Stuffing vitamins in fish, preparing meals,
cleaning habitats, participating in dolphin, whale, and sea lion training sessions, talking with researchers and veterinarians were all part of this incredible day. It was one of the highlights of my life.
Back to reality in Frederick, Maryland, I was extremely motivated to learn more about all
marine animals, how they live and communicate with one another how they interact with humans. Visiting the library and numerous websites, I poured over countless pages trying to find information on the animals that I worked with at Sea World as well as a myriad of species that I didn't even know existed. I realized that if I wanted to pursue this path I would need funds for traveling and to pay for the fees of educational programs. At 14
years old it would be difficult to find someone to hire me, so I took the initiative to start my own educational day camp for children whose parents had to work. This enabled me to earn enough money to attend the "Career Camp" at Sea World in San Antonio, Texas. This camp is the first step of the hiring process for Sea World employees. It was an amazing week long
opportunity for further hands-on interaction and instruction regarding daily care, feeding, training, and veterinary care of many marine animals, such as dolphins, beluga whales, orca whales, otters, and sea lions. Birds, penguins, and sloths were also included. Each day included academics about the different mammals, culminating in an exam to pass before receiving a certificate of merit.
My quest for further animal experiences continued. I worked at a local veterinary hospital as a Kennel Operator until school started. Additionally, I volunteered at the Catoctin Zoo in Thurmont, Maryland. Unfortunately, this program is only offered during the summer season. Conveniently, my brother moved to Virginia Beach providing me the opportunity to volunteer at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. This position allowed me to participate in all of the educational training at the Aquarium. I was able to attend classes pertaining to aquatic life indigenous to the Virginia Coast, including fish, cetaceans (specifically
whales and dolphins), and invertebrates. I became a Junior Docent, working in the exhibit areas, offices, and on the whale-watch boats during the times that my family visited my brother. More recently,I was able to attend a seal stranding seminar at the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration and was also granted "job shadow time" with the Veterinarian and the Stranding Team Coordinator. Through this and my other experiences, I learned
what it is to be passionate about what you are doing and to have endless
enthusiasm for even the dirtiest aspects of their work.
In spite of the long hours and hard work, I sensed the pride that these people felt about
spending their lives learning, researching, helping, and trying to understand these precious creatures. Now that I have seen this kind of passion and love with which these people work at their jobs, I do not want to settle for anything less. As a result of all of these experiences I now know that I want to major in zoology/marine biology in college. I hope to
experience working in the many different aspects of zoology, including animal care, field research, and conservation. Later I plan to continue my education in graduate school to specialize and become more effective in this field.
Currently, I volunteer at the National Zoo as a keeper aide in the Amazonian Exhibit. In the future, I hope to be involved in their Asian Trail and Elephant Trails: A Campaign to Save Asian Elephants programs. These programs are highly advanced compared to conservation projects at most other zoos in the U.S. Also, I plan to do Field Research Projects that will help
wildlife all over the world.