When Tara Chaboda began working three years ago at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, she found herself in an unusual situation.
Tasked with disseminating two manuals of biology and microbiology curriculum to New York City public school teachers, she found herself teaching and working alongside educators who possessed advanced degrees.
Chaboda was well versed in the curriculum. She majored in biology as an undergraduate at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and had worked with animals at a Manhattan veterinarian hospital and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
Still, teaching the manuals instilled in her the desire for more expertise. So she turned to the innovative master’s program created by the Fordham Graduate School of Education (GSE) in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society(WCS)/Bronx Zoo.
“Because I had been doing informal education at the Hall and at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, I had a solid grounding in the subject matter, but not in the theory and foundations of education that formal educators need,” she said.
The yearlong program has garnered her a master’s degree in education and an initial New York State teacher certification in adolescent biology/conservation life sciences for grades 7 through 12. The program was challenging in that it required her to work full time, take classes and student teach. It presented content with which she was familiar, but in a different way.
“I’d never worked at a zoo before or seen how they use the content,” Chaboda said. “Learning the theory and the foundation of education, and then bridging that with what I already knew—it’s kind of like I did education backward.”
A huge benefit of the program was access to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s resources, she said. For example, a technology course included a trip behind the scenes at the Bronx Zoo’s new Madagascar exhibit. There, students saw cameras used to create virtual visits and digital learning workshops linked to a lemur exhibit.
The class also sat in on lunch talks with the zoo’s head veterinarian and researchers who are working abroad in conservation biology. Because of her own work experience, Chaboda said she sometimes felt like she was talking to peers at the zoo instead of teachers.
“Most of the other students in the cohort don’t have the background that I have in education, so it was kind of awkward at times,” she said. “It was really nice for me because I got to chime in with my own experience, and they were willing to ask for it from time to time.”
Chaboda enjoys working in informal education, but is giving serious consideration to working in schools and doing her own research in the classroom. In the meantime, she is proud to be part of the first cohort in the GSE/WCS partnership.
“There’s no other program that I know of that bridges an informal and formal institution,” she said. “Fordham and the Wildlife Conservation Society get to be on our diploma. So that’s kind of cool.”