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Walters Family Foundation

Learning Initiatives

Bringing to Life a One-of-a-Kind Zoology Program at University Prep Schools

Detroit, MI (December 20, 2019)“What we found in our research is that there isn't an urban school system and a large urban zoo partnering to create a zoology animal science program. So, we thought, ‘We're going to be the first."" Mark Ornstein, Chief Executive Officer, University Prep Schools

Studies show that when it comes to college studies and careers in zoology, African Americans are enormously underrepresented. In fact, less than three percent of all zoology degrees are awarded to African American students. University Prep Schools, which has a 98 percent African American student population, wanted to change that statistic and cultivate a strong pipeline from its science classrooms to university zoological studies and even careers.

University Prep worked hand-in-hand with the Detroit Zoological Society and the Belle Isle Aquarium for nine months to create a dynamic Zoology and Aquarium Science curriculum that sets students up for success in college and in life. With support from a Walters Family Foundation grant, the pilot program was launched in the 2019-2020 school year.

UPMS students collect water samples from the Detroit RiverDownload a high-resolution version of this photo.

The four-year program is structured much like a college degree and works to deepen students’ connections with the natural sciences and animal welfare. Students are immersed in coursework in fundamental genetics, animal ecology, oceanaria and marine biology. They engage in hands-on lab experiments, research and field trips that excite, engage and support traditional science content. They’re also offered one-of-a-kind summer employment and internships at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Aquarium that provide critical professional experience and connections.

“Many of our students have a passion for animals and animal science, but they aren't sure exactly what they want to do with it,” says Ornstein. “In this program, they learn what they would need to study in college and in graduate school in order to be a veterinarian, a zoologist or marine biologist.”

Ornstein says that while the program is still in its infancy, it’s already opening students’ eyes to new possibilities. Ofure Diawara, a Junior at University Prep says, “The Zoology pathway is something you do not see at other schools. I am able to explore, dissect, and figure out how different animals function, and learn outside the classroom at different places like the Zoo. Whatever I decide to do in the future, I have learned how to explore and research.”