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Keefer ’16 connects animals and researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Keefer ’16 connects animals and researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

If Jill Keefer ’16 is any example, then the Otterbein University Zoo and Conservation Science Program is off to a good start.

Keefer, a dual major in biology and zoo and conservation science, serves as an animal research technician, functioning as a middleman between test animals and researchers, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. She cares for and monitors the health of the test animals, working primarily with mice. Research is also conducted on frogs, rats, chinchillas, sheep and pigs.

“I take care of a lot of animals for multiple labs,” Keefer said. “The labs are researching into finding ways to cure various childhood diseases and cancers. One of the labs I help is studying the effects on offspring from maternal obesity. Other labs are researching things like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), tumors and epilepsy.

Keefer was one of 17 students among the first graduating class from the zoo and conservation science program this past spring. Only five universities in the U.S. offer a bachelor's degree in zoo and conservation science, according to the program’s director Assistant Professor Anna Young. Members of that first class landed jobs at Reid Park Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, San Diego Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Baton Rouge Zoo. Another member enrolled at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

As a student, Keefer served internships at the Columbus Zoo, Newport Aquarium, and Ohio Wildlife Center; and studied abroad in Belize doing research on coral. Students majoring in zoo and conservation science have many internship opportunities in the U.S. and abroad, including South Africa, Australia and China.

“Otterbein opened so many doors for me, and I didn't realize it until after I graduated,” Keefer said. “I had everything from multiple science classes that allowed me to try various research projects and presentations, to the wonderful professors who introduced me to multiple career opportunities. College taught me time management, how to prepare for the working world and to always challenge myself.”

A highlight of her college career was her internship at Newport Aquarium in Newport, Ky. where she received specific training to work as an aquarist/biologist in an aquarium during the summer of 2014.

“I had wanted to work at that aquarium since it opened back in the ’90’s,” Keefer said. “My mentor there was the best mentor any intern could ask for because she wanted you to have a chance to learn absolutely everything.”

Keefer plans to pursue a master’s degree and possibly a Ph.D. She hasn’t quite settled in on her field of study yet, but is interested in environmental engineering, comparative anatomy, and water ecology.

Until then, Keefer is more than happy and willing to spend her time at her job that she sees as vital to helping others.

“While I love this experience, and this is going to sound silly, I wish my job didn't exist. If it didn't exist, then children wouldn't have to be brought into hospitals with terminal illnesses and families wouldn't have to face such difficulties. However, until that day comes, I'm more than happy to help the researchers with their work.”


Learn more about Otterbein’s biology and zoo and conservation science programs.