Pride In Our People: Jessica


Our digital series, Pride In Our People, features the incredible staff at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium through written first-person narratives and/or podcast interviews.
Today, we are featuring Jessica, one of the Aquarists.
This is her story…

My professional journey here at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium began in high school. My grandma cut out a clipping from the newspaper advertising ZooU, one of our educational programs for high schoolers. She used to drive me and would sit to watch the elephants while I attended classes. I also attended a program called Keeper Conversations, which serves as a job shadow requirement for high school senior projects. I invited my AP Biology teacher, and we had a blast! They’re really amazing programs; you get to learn about a topic and go behind the scenes to meet the staff. It’s funny being on the other side of these tours now; I was totally the overly enthusiastic kid with their hand up saying, “Oh me, me!” so I get to see a lot of myself in the next generation of up and comers here at the Zoo.

Thanks in part to connections made through ZooU, I was accepted for my first internship here at the Aquarium right after I graduated high school, working with the penguins and saltwater fish. I left my mom a message at lunch that first day: “Mom, I’m covered in penguin poop, I reek of fish guts, and I’m having the best day EVER!” I’ve truly never wanted to do anything else. Growing up, I made my own marine biology magazines, I had SeaWorld Barbie. My favorite Disney Princess was (and is) The Little Mermaid. After that first day of interning here, I never wanted to do anything else. I attended Kent State University for Zoology and returned each summer as an intern, which eventually led to seasonal employment. I’ve been working full time as an aquarist since 2014. When I’m not at work, I enjoy spending time with my husband Jeff, our son Hunter, and our dog Douggie. I like to listen to audiobooks, thrift shop, and fuss over my houseplants.

Coming to the Zoo each day feels like coming home. I currently manage our penguin colony, as well as saltwater and freshwater fishes. We’re all cross trained on everything here at the aquarium, so any given day could involve fishes, invertebrates, jellyfish, sea turtles, or sharks. The variety keeps things interesting, and I learn something new every day. One of the most common questions I am asked is what is my favorite animal/penguin/etc.? Truly, I don’t have a favorite – each of the animals in my care holds a special place in my heart. It’s that passion that I love sharing with our guests. It’s our mission and our privilege to share these incredible animals with our visitors each and every day, helping to foster a lifelong love and respect for nature. Sharing a guest’s enthusiasm for an animal is always the highlight of my day, so next time you’re visiting the Aquarium and you’d like to chat, please flag me down! See you at the Aquarium!

Thank you for all you do, Jessica!

Pride In Our People

 Our new series, Pride In Our People, features the incredible staff here at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium.