Aquarium Science Program, Zoo and Conservation Science Major

Otterbein’s Aquarium Science Program is the newest part of our innovative Zoo and Conservation Science Major. It is designed for students who love aquatic organisms and know that the effort to keep tanks thriving is well worth the reward.

  • Aquarium students will get hands-on experience and develop skills in marine and freshwater biology, water quality, and aquatic life support.​
  • Their skills will also prepare them to work at animal care facilities such as zoos and aquariums. Zoos need aquarium workers to keep up the tanks of penguins, polar bears, pond turtles, and more.​
  • As part of the Zoo and Conservation Science Major, Aquarium experiences also prepare students for graduate and professional studies, for work with conservation organizations, and jobs in the biological sciences.​
  • Aquarium expertise prepares students for careers in the $1.1 billion/year industry of hobby aquariums. ​

The Foundations of Otterbein's Aquarium Science Curriculum

Our curriculum focuses on four important aspects of Aquarium Science: the biology of marine and freshwater organisms, water quality, life support, and professional experiences.

Marine Science – and Freshwater too!

The diversity of aquatic life is breathtaking, and our students explore the science of aquatic life with courses in marine science, coral reef ecology, freshwater ecology and conservation biology. We also have tanks with corals, fish, and lots of invertebrates and have labs in local streams and ponds. What better way to learn about life in the water than to study and interact directly with it.

Water Quality

Healthy streams and aquariums require proper water quality and Otterbein’s practicum classes teach students the necessary skills to maintain appropriate water chemistry. As part of the practicum, students will also have a chance to earn a level-one certification in Water Quality from Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators (AALSO).

Life Support

To aquarists, “life support” is the filters, pumps, pipes, and protein skimmers that keep aquatic life alive. This is needed in reef tanks, freshwater aquariums, and the enclosures for many other zoo animals such as polar bears and penguins. Otterbein’s aquarium lab provides the opportunity for our students to learn aquarium hardware systems as they work toward a professional certification in Life Support. ​

Aquariums, Internships, and Institutions

Otterbein students build the skills to work professionally in zoos and aquariums through classes, research, and internships. Most students in the Zoo and Conservation Science Major complete internships including many at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium during the school year and summer internships elsewhere. Otterbein students have interned around the nation and the world including working with pandas in China, parrots and sharks in South Africa, and corals and reefs in Florida.

Travel and Ecosystem Experiences

Experience the natural systems you’re studying firsthand with travel courses to coral reefs and other aquatic environments.

Conservation and Community Engagment

Help conserve ocean, river, and lake environments, and make our community at-large appreciate the value of aquatic environments by helping with the Florida Reef Tract Clean-up Crew, local river clean-ups, and our educational tanks.

Aquarium Internships

Complete an internship or professional experience and put your learning to work. Each year students intern with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Coral Reef Systems, and other local and national aquariums.​

Take the lead with an aquarium

Plan and execute a themed aquarium of your choosing – you’re in charge as the leader, life support giver, and trouble-shooter.​

Research Projects

Work with our faculty on research projects with an aquatic focus.

Get Involved!

Students of all levels of experience work in the lab, and you are invited to join the aquarium crew! There are several paid positions for juniors and seniors who serve as lab supervisors and ensure water chemistry and life support systems are properly maintained. Other students volunteer to work with the tanks, cleaning away algae, fragging corals, and perhaps most fun, feeding anemones and fish. This is a great way for students to get involved from day one at Otterbein. Contact Dr. Lescinsky ( if you want to join the aquarium crew. As an added bonus, all active crew members can have a “fish” with their name on it swimming on the wall. ​

Otterbein Aquarium Coral PropagationStudents in our Aquarium lab work to examine and propagate corals.
Aquarium program coral sculptureEach fish swimming on the Aquarium coral is a student involved with Aquariums at Otterbein.
Carly Feeding AnemoneCarly Lech ‘23 feeds the anemones in the tank she spearheads.

Find out more about Otterbein’s Aquarium Science Program

Otterbein collaborates with two organizations to offer the Aquarium Science Program.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is within easy driving distance of Otterbein and its aquarium facilities include Discovery Reef, Manatee Coast, Polar Frontier, and the sea lion habitat at the Zoo’s new Adventure Cove region. Students will learn about these and other zoo facilities during Introduction to Zoo and Conservation Science, taken during the spring of the first year. Later, Aquarium students will examine the facilities in more detail in the Aquarium practicums and internships.

Reef Systems Coral Farm

Reef Systems Coral Farm provides students with a window into another important part of the Aquarium Industry. This nearby farm caters to enthusiastic hobbyists and is a pioneer in farming coral sustainably in greenhouses, even in the middle of Ohio. Collaborations here provide lots of hands-on experience in water quality, life support, and coral ecology. ​Reef Systems Coral Farm propagates many soft and hard coral species for hobbyist reef tanks.


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I absolutely love how quickly I was able to start working hands on in the aquariums, and I was even able to care for my own tank focused on anemones. I feel comfortable asking questions, and I love being part of a team of students and professors around me that really care about what we are doing..

Carly Lech ’23

Zoo & Conservation Science (Aquarium Track) Major ​


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The experience I have gained working in the aquarium lab has helped my education immensely and has given me experience working with larger aquariums and life support systems. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was able to step in and help take care of the aquariums when the campus shut down. It was not an easy task to keeping everything running, often by myself, but I enjoyed it, and now I have the great fortune to be able to teach and help the new aquarium students learn the systems.

Robert Simpson ’23

Zoo & Conservation Science, Aquarium Track Major ​


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None of this would be possible without the Aquarium Program. I was hired specifically because of the coral experience I was able to gain in the coral reef lab. Dr. Lescinsky’s mentorship cannot be overstated.

Derek Bowers ’20

Aquarist, Ripley’s Aquarium, North Carolina. ​