What We Do

Earn your Master’s Degree with the Zoo

Inspiring Change

Investigating the effect of messaging on conservation donations, evaluating predation of burrowing owl chicks using camera trap technology, and assessing the impact of volunteer interpreters on guest stay time at exhibits. You might expect our scientists here at the Institute for Conservation Research to be tackling research questions such as these. In fact, these are examples of actual research conducted by San Diego Zoo Global’s own Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) Master’s candidates during their first semester of coursework!

The Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) represents a partnership between Miami University’s Project Dragonfly and San Diego Zoo Global. This partnership with Project Dragonfly allows students to take graduate level courses directly through our Zoo, bringing a unique, inquiry-driven, and affordable Master’s degree program to our region. Because the AIP is designed for working professionals, our first cohort represents a diversity of disciplines, from formal and informal educators to conservation professionals, a dive coach, a librarian, and even an optometrist!

During their first course, Foundations of Inquiry, students honed their investigation skills by spending five days at the Beckman Center for Conservation Research and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They held group discussions, conducted group inquiry projects, and engaged with scientists and animal care staff in order to discover how inquiry is used as a daily tool for conservation here at San Diego Zoo Global.

Then, they put their new found skills into practice by designing and conducting their own personal inquiry investigations. While this undertaking was not always easy or comfortable, our students were able to accomplish more than we ever imagined possible, and they learned much more than they anticipated along the way. One AIP student said it perfectly with, “Designing a personal inquiry was very challenging, and one of the processes that has taught me the most in my education.”

On of our fall courses, Conservation Research in Zoos, delves into each of the six strategic research areas of the Institute: Sustainable Populations, Bioresource Banking, Wildlife Health, Habitat Conservation, Restoration Biology, and Conservation Education. Utilizing readings, discussions, presentations from experts in the field, and experiential learning with scientists at the Institute, we are addressing questions that are especially relevant to San Diego Zoo Global: What is the role of zoos in conservation, and how can we best meet the conservation challenges of the future?

As the lead advisor to our student cohort, I am enjoying a remarkably enriching experience working alongside such a diverse and driven group of Master’s candidates. I am constantly in awe of our students; they inspire me every day with the great work they are doing to educate and engage our community in conservation. Perhaps most importantly, they motivate and inspire each other. One student recently commented that, “Being a part of such an amazing cohort of learners has inspired me to challenge myself.”

The work that our students have accomplished in just a few short months highlights the power of inquiry and exemplifies a core principle of the AIP Master’s degree: that inquiry can be used not only as a tool for integrated learning, but also as a powerful agent for public engagement and ecological stewardship. San Diego Zoo Global’s AIP Master’s students have made impressive contributions to conservation both within our organization and within our community. Imagine what they will accomplish by the time they graduate after two and a half years!

Applications for the AIP Master’s degree are due February 28, 2016. For more information, contact Kirstie Ruppert at 760-291-5477 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). To read more, visit our website:

Robin Keith, Conservation Program Specialist, Conservation Education Division