Lauren Briggs’ two favorite penguins at the Memphis Zoo are siblings, Toby and Alyran.
Alyran is a hopeless romantic she says, and Toby acts like a bratty teenager. But Briggs didn’t take a liking to the penguins from outside the penguin exhibit. She has actively been involved with their care through interning and volunteering.
“The penguins are just so much fun to be around. They each have their own personality,” Briggs said. “I help clean everything, and I help prepare the dishes. It’s also giving them their medications and making sure they’re OK. It’s just basically taking care of them.”
Briggs, a junior in the Animal Science concentration and Veterinary Health Technology (VHT) Option at the University of Tennessee at Martin, landed the penguin internship with the Memphis Zoo in the summer of 2010, and has been volunteering ever since on school breaks. She attributes her success in gaining the internship to her GPA and hands-on experience working with animals at UT Martin.
“I knew I wanted to do something with animals, and it just seemed like this is where I would get the most hands-on and best learning experience. And it’s been pretty true to what I thought,” Briggs said about her decision to attend UT Martin as a freshman.
An early love of animals made the choice to work towards an animal care career an easy one. Lauren grew up having birds, rabbits and several dogs as pets. Still, this summer she will be expanding her animal experience to possibly include aquatic creatures as she was recently accepted into an internship program with SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla.
“I wanted to do something else,” Briggs said. “I looked online and saw that SeaWorld had some internships and I applied for one in Orlando, and a month later they called me.”
Once Briggs passes a swimming test she will be heading to Orlando in May for the roughly three-month long paid internship. Although she doesn’t yet know with which animal she will be working, she is ecstatic about the opportunity.
“I hope to get to work with the dolphins, just because they’re fun,” she said.
In the mean time, the student who is active in her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, and is the first ever UT Martin Veterinary Technology Club president, is enjoying her vet-technology classes.
“This semester we have an advanced lab where we actually work with dogs and I’m in an exotic animal and pocket pet class. In that we’ll be learning how to do things with birds and rats … and things like that,” Briggs said.
Briggs’ ultimate career goal is to work in a zoo with exotic animals, as a veterinary technologist, which can be described as the equivalent of a registered nurse, only for animals.
“I really like the feeling of helping animals,” Briggs said. “Even though volunteering and the Memphis Zoo internship was free, it’s very fulfilling.”
UT Martin has initiated the process to have the Veterinary Health Technology option accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Briggs will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 2013 and be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technologists licensure exam once the VHT Option is accredited by the AVMA.
Briggs encourages others interested in veterinary technology to visit campus and meet the professors, but she also advises them to take action doing something with which she is all too experienced.
“You have to have at least 40 hours working with animals or in a vet clinic under a vet,” Briggs said about the veterinary technology option’s acceptance requirements. “So I would say start volunteering.”