Student Voices! Curriculum Studies Graduate – Jaclyn Peterson

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Jaclyn Peterson is a graduate of the Curriculum Studies program. Read below as she discusses how the courses she took prepared her for her current role as Education Programs Manager at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Q: What was your program of study at DePaul and what was the focus of your study?

A: I was a graduate student in Curriculum Studies with a focus on non-formal environmental education. The Curriculum Studies courses provided me with an overview of important educational concepts, theories, and practices, which I was able to take and apply to this specialized field.

Q: What have you been doing since you graduated from DePaul?

A: As a graduate student at DePaul, I was concurrently working full-time in the Education Department at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Since graduating, I have continued working at the zoo where I manage education programs for youth, families, and adults.

Q: Do you recall a particular class, moment or professor (from DePaul or elsewhere) that you feel had an impact on your decision to pursue your education and career path?

A: The variety of coursework in the Curriculum Studies program provided me with so many tools to be successful as an educator as well as a leader in my field. Additionally, many of my professors were encouraging and supportive of my particular interests within education, oftentimes allowing me to tweak course assignments to fit my interest in non-formal environmental education. One example jumps out to me in particular. Dr. Gardner’s curriculum design course included an extensive class project that culminated in creating a curriculum tailored to a particular group of learners. Most of my classmates were school teachers and were able to design a curriculum to fit the needs of their students. I, on the other hand, do not work with a consistent group of students since the education programs at the zoo serve different learners every day. Instead of designing a curriculum for a class of students, I created a professional development workshop for my fellow Lincoln Park Zoo educators on strategies for teaching controversial environmental issues. Through this project, I was able to go through all the same steps as my classmates – I conducted a pre-assessment to gauge my learners’ prior knowledge, I solicited their input in developing activities, I conducted formative and summative assessments, and so on. After facilitating this workshop successfully with my co-workers, I offered it publicly for other environmental educators throughout the Chicago region. While this was a unique way to approach the curriculum development assignment, it was extremely relevant to the work I do. Completing this project with Dr. Gardner’s support was very encouraging.

Q: Do you have any interesting projects that you are working on now?

A: I recently started to work on improving our approach to accessibility and inclusion at the zoo. To begin, I have helped to create a task force of educators who advocate for providing excellent experiences for every person who attends an education program or simply visits the zoo. We will be seeking professional development opportunities for zoo educators to be more aware of various disabilities and how to develop and adapt programs that meet the needs of all learners. We also hope to make an impact on the design of zoo exhibits to ensure they are accessible and inclusive for all.

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