Q: What kind of coursework can I expect from this program?
A: The core of this program is becoming a driver for environmental and social change in your community, whatever this means to you—whether it’s your immediate neighborhood, school district, workplace, zoo, nature center, city, faith family, or your own interpretation. We encourage critical thinking and inquiry-based learning as tools for creating strategies for change. AIP courses focus on environmental and social topics and devising strategies for communicating with your community on these topics and issues.
In this program, students drive their own master’s experience through projects and opportunities they design, so your area of focus will ultimately depend upon your own personal goals. In general, you can expect to develop content knowledge and skills in the realms of biodiversity threats and conservation, evolution, social science, community engagement, inquiry-based education, science writing and publishing, and conservation leadership—among others. Through the development and exposure of these tools, students will create a framework for bringing social and ecological change to their community.
Q: Do I need to live in Denver to complete this program?
A: You don’t! All courses are taught by Miami University instructors online. The program requires you to be at Denver Zoo about two to four times per semester. As long you’re willing to travel to Denver for each course’s in-person components, you can live practically anywhere. We try to do most of our in-person components on Saturdays specifically to accommodate travel and work schedules. Over the years, we have had many students in our program who lived outside the Denver metro area—coming from all over Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, Texas and even Alaska.
Q: Are there any major in-person experiences outside the main coursework?
A: Yes. While all courses are taught online by Miami University instructors, many of our courses are Web+courses which include immersive learning experiences at Denver Zoo and around the Denver Zoo Metro area. We require students to take at least these three specific Web+courses, but most students take more.
Q: Is it possible to pause my studies for a semester, if needed?
A: Yes! It’s not uncommon for students to take a lighter load occasionally—or even take a full semester off—while things in their personal or work lives settle. The program is designed to accommodate these pauses; you just have to plan to finish within five consecutive years from when you started the program.
Q: What is the general size and makeup of the AIP student body?
A: Miami University accepts only around 30 students per year to this online master's degree with experiential learning at Denver Zoo. Students come from a variety of backgrounds such as: formal and informal educators, stay-at-home parents, physicians, lawyers, financial consultants, retirees, informal educators, IT specialists, recent college grads, animal care professionals, and more.
Q: What key outcomes often come from a program like this?
A: In addition to making new contacts and friends and diving into a world of environmental studies, two major themes emerge from this program: leadership and community engagement. Throughout the various courses and assignments, students are asked to tackle issues and topics they’re passionate about, and also asked to dream bigger and push themselves beyond their normal day-to-day routines.
Through our Miami University/Project Dragonfly family, students have gone on to receive grants, create brand-new events or programs in their communities, collaborate with sanctuaries and preserves, take on leadership roles at work or promotions, write books, improve husbandry practices at zoos and even start their own nonprofit organizations. This program creates opportunities for people to do and explore the things they’ve always wanted to.
Q: Can my AIP master’s degree lead to a Ph.D. program?
A: Possibly. Overall, if you are interested in a Ph.D. in a hard science field with a heavy research base like biology, chemistry, etc., it might be tougher to find a Ph.D. program that will accept an M.A./M.A.T. over an M.S. On the other hand, going into a Ph.Ed. or a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies (or other interdisciplinary-type fields like sustainability education, etc.) would be more feasible.
If you have a Ph.D. program that you’re interested in, we recommend discussing our program with your advisor. In addition, because this is a non-traditional academic program, it might require educating the Ph.D. department or university in question a bit more about what the AIP is about in order to help them understand what we accomplish, our coursework and philosophies, etc. Any Ph.D. program advisor is welcome to reach out to Project Dragonfly’s leadership team at Miami University to inquire further.
Q: Can I apply before I obtain my bachelor’s degree?
A: Yes! You can apply during the last year of your undergraduate program. During the application process, just upload the most recent version of your unofficial transcripts. Then, you will need to submit a final transcript to Miami University after your acceptance into AIP and graduating with your bachelor’s degree.
Q: Do I need to take the GRE for this program?
A: No! The GRE is not required for your application to this program.
Q: Can I get a job as a zookeeper after I graduate with this degree?
A: Not with this degree alone. Keeper positions require extensive experience in animal husbandry and animal science. These qualifications often include college degrees, but also heavily rely on hands-on, practical work experience in animal husbandry or veterinary medicine. Without this experience, there is simply no stand-alone degree that will help you qualify as an animal care specialist at Denver Zoo.
Your AIP studies will help build your conservation content, leadership skills, and networking possibilities, but our courses do not focus on “how to be a zookeeper” or put you in any direct animal care scenarios. That experience can only come from volunteer experience, internships or attending a teaching or trade school geared specifically toward animal care—like the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Florida.
Q: Will AIP help me “get my foot in the door” at Denver Zoo, so that I can get a job there when I’m done?
A: Potentially. You’ll definitely meet Denver Zoo staff and learn about opportunities along the way. Because we’re an internationally recognized Zoo and a center for wildlife conservation, our job openings are promoted nationally, so that the very best candidate can be found. You may hear about a job opening because of your association with AIP, but you’ll be considered along with the rest of the candidates that apply.
Q: I want to become a conservation biologist and help protect wildlife. Will AIP help me achieve this?
A: In part. As a Master of Arts program, AIP leans more towards those in the environmental studies and community engagement realm versus building your field methods skill sets. Being able to communicate conservation plans to the public requires you to know how to engage people in conservation issues. So, AIP will certainly enhance your career as a conservation biologist, but you’ll need more pure conservation research experience before you’ll be ready to find a job as a conservation biologist.
That said, the degree is open to interpretation and is often largely impacted or influenced by the projects, experiences, and new contacts you create while you’re in the program. If field conservation is your passion, and you work to leverage your community partnerships to support those goals, you could use this degree program to build the hands-on experience and the academic background you’re looking for.
Q: Can I volunteer to work with the animals?
A: Limited potential, but possible for the right candidate. In general, the AIP master’s journey does not include direct animal care or training with animals as a part of the degree. However, there are a variety of volunteer and internship opportunities available at the Zoo, and many of these could lead to opportunities to work closer with our animal ambassadors. Click this link to learn more about volunteering with us.
Can’t find the answer to your question above? Have more logistical questions about pre-requisites, the application process, or registration? Check out the program’s full FAQs