2Reeder Bilby (3)

Reeder holding a bilby named Joe.

“I am a Biology major at Volunteer State Community College,” Joy Reeder said. “I just came back from an amazing, life changing program outside of the college - and I really would like to spread the news that these opportunities are out there.”

But for Reeder, life after high school was a bit of slippery slope to navigate. The 2014 graduate of Station Camp High School hit the books at Volunteer State Community College admitting that she was not focused.

“I really did not know what I wanted,” she said. “My head and my heart were just not into it. I dropped out after the spring 2015 semester. Outside of college, I was planning a wedding and house hunting. Despite being the happiest person in other aspects of my life, I regretted how I handled by first attempt at college.”

However that was to soon change when she ran across an ad on Facebook about a program called Loop Abroad.

“Loop Abroad is an organization that takes students all over the world to study zoo medicine,” she said citing studies of an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, or a cheetah breeding facility in South Africa, or even a wildlife park in Australia.

“It is a very hands-on and intimate program,” she said. “They make sure you get a piece of the pie as far as experience. Even though I am no longer a veterinary student, I thought that maybe the experience would be a wonderful resume addition.” 

She said that she actually applied to return to school fall 2017, but she then learned about the Tennessee Reconnect program and decided to stay out an additional year to focus on developing her work ethic and skills.

Her return to Vol State in 2018 reflected a greater sense of focus, enthusiasm, determination and commitment, noting that her love for animals and for the proper care of the environment were both intact with increased interests in zoology, wildlife biology and conservation.

Her experience in attending Loop Abroad’s program in Australia has been absolutely life changing and life affirming.

Founded in 2009 by Addam and Jane Stine, who wanted to bring students who love animals on international adventures to see the world and experience animal care and conservation in a new way. Chiang Mai, Thailand was the perfect place to start for Loop Abroad, which also offers learning adventures in South Africa and Australia.

“It is a very hands-on and intimate program,” she said of her experience down under in Australia. “They make sure you get a piece of the pie as far as experience. Students will not only learn hands on from veterinarians and rangers, but they will also receive a certificate for veterinary service hours. They also have the option to receive credit at Loop Abroad's partner college for the course.”

She said that each day began with a lecture, from which various tasks would be assigned such as enclosure care, behavior in handling and training, food preparation or ranger assistance in the park that day.

“Every one of the 40 students would get hands on experience,” she said. “They would make sure everybody understood the lecture and what went on. With each program you’d get certified for veterinary service hours. And you could get credit at the organization’s partner college in Iowa for wildlife handling and care.”

Reed described the Australian setting as an 80-acre fenced in park that was like a down under version of Walden’s Puddle, with a variety of wildlife that included koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, emus, kookaburra and even Tasmanian devils. 

“Tasmanian devils are aggressive side scavengers, but if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone,” she said. “Three or four groups back to back would work through tasks such as cleaning enclosures, learning how to conduct physical exams, how to retrain properly and how to prepare food. You learned to work with enrichment on an animal which forces them to use wild behavior such as foraging to help them become healthier by using their brain and instincts.”

Examples of enrichment included having a ranger hide a chicken in a log for a Tasmanian devil to find it and chickens were tied to tree branches for dingos because they naturally jump for their prey.

“Each program offers certification for veterinary service hours,” she said. "My favorite part was when the rabies vaccinated students got to handle flying foxes and clip their nails. The flying foxes were like huge bats or a fox with wings.”

She also had the opportunity to visit the Taronga Zoo in Sydney and she also liked the fact that the programs also focus on culture.

“There were a couple nights for cultural activities such as native trees; aboriginal carvings, and learning to throw a boomerang,” she said, noting that she got to watch a necropsy, which is an autopsy on an animal.

She hopes that more people get involved in the program, noting that the only drawback was a 15-hour flight to Australia.

She said she’d love to do the program again but that the opportunity times out at age 23, which is her current age.

“I’m thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree in biology or zoology options,” she said regarding further educational pursuits.

The program is costly with a price tag overall for roughly $8,000 because she stayed an extra week in Australia.

“Fundraising is available,” she said. “If you can get extra people to sign up, the referrals help you to cuts costs. But with meals and housing and transit cards, the two-week program would cost roughly $6,000. Some students even do back-to-back programs, going to another location.”

She said she was excited to embark on a first time out of the country journey, meeting new people and networking.

“There was only one other Tennessee participant, a girl who also went to Station Camp and I knew her brother,” she said. “Also, it must be stressed that participants all learn under the supervision of veterinarians and the Loop Abroad staff.”

Reeder hopes to get a job at the Nashville Zoo.

For more information, visit www.loopabroad.com.

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