An interview with Laura Morgan, former Cal Poly student and animal trainer at Sea World, San Diego. November 2004 :
What do you do? I am an animal trainer at Sea World. I currently train at Dolphin Stadium with Atlantic Bottle-nosed dolphins, Common dolphins and Pacific Pilot whales.
What was your major at Cal Poly? Minor or concentration? Majored in animal science with a concentration in zoo and exotic animal care.
What steps did you take to get to where you are? I have always loved animals and I knew I wanted to work with them in some capacity. I came to Sea World when I was growing up and after seeing the shows I knew animal training was what I wanted to do. I have always been a swimmer, which is one of the major requirements of the job. Having a love for the ocean, I was more than happy to get my SCUBA certification, another important requirement. While in school I took courses in animal management, biology and psychology. I also got my foot in the door at Sea World by doing an internship for the Sea World Orlando education department.
How did your Cal Poly education help you reach your goals? Every class I took has helped me in my career in some way. All of my professors were very supportive of my choice of courses and internship opportunities.
Were you involved in any particular projects/enterprises? I did not participate in any school-sponsored programs; I did, however, volunteer for the California Marine Mammal Center and the Port San Luis Marine Institute.
What was your favorite class and why? It is hard to pick one favorite because I enjoyed all of my classes. The one class that I do refer to a lot is Dr. Noland's anatomy and physiology course (VS 223). I find it funny how closely I can now compare farm animals to marine mammals.
Which professor was most influential in helping you reach your career goals? Dr. Plummer stuck by me through many tough school and work decisions. He believed in me and pushed me to pursue my dream.
What advice would you offer current animal science students with an interest in exotic animals? Most zoos and aquariums offer some type of internship or volunteer opportunity. When applying for these jobs upon graduation (internship and volunteer) experiences are invaluable. Any hands-on experience with any type of animal is helpful. The International Marine Animal Trainer's Association is an organization that many animal trainers, keepers and veterinarians are members of. The IMATA organization provides a lot of information about training, education and job opportunities around the world.
What advice would you offer animal science students in general?Cherish the hands-on experience you are getting. Very few schools offer the learn-by-doing environment and philosophy like Cal Poly does. The experiences and opportunities offered at Cal Poly are highly respected within the animal industry.
How do you view Cal Poly and the animal science program now? It was an honor and a privilege to attend Cal Poly. I was so happy I chose a school in which I wasn't just a number. The professors really care about students and make an effort to help them in any way possible.
If you could rewind college, what would you change? I would have remained at Cal Poly a little longer to take advantage of the opportunities that the animal science department offers.
What is the next step for you, regarding your career? During my employment at Sea World, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of different animals. I am amazed by what these animals teach me every day and I look forward to the years of learning ahead of me.