Mason and Smithsonian National Zoo Develop New Partnership for Conservation Studies

Posted: October 13, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Last week, Mason and the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park signed an agreement to develop a comprehensive academic program for undergraduates, graduates and practicing conservationists.

Multidisciplinary faculty members from Mason’s Center for Conservation Studies and the Zoo’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability are launching Smithsonian-Mason Global Conservation Education Studies, a program that will provide academic opportunities for up to 50 undergraduate students per semester and accommodate an additional 60 participants in the professional training and certificate programs that the partnership will offer.

Red panda at CRC
Red panda at the Conservation and Research Center.
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Smithsonian-Mason Global Conservation Education Studies offers students an opportunity to live and study at the zoo’s 3,200-acre Conservation and Research Center (CRC) near Front Royal, Va., where the zoo cares for and conducts research on more than 30 critically endangered species.

At the signing, National Zoo director John Berry announced that one of the two Przewalski’s horses born at the CRC this summer would be named Mason in honor of the partnership. The breed is the world’s last remaining wild horse and is extinct in the wild.

Under the program, new energy-efficient residential facilities, research and computer labs, classrooms, offices and student amenities will be supplemented by access to more than 2,000 acres of natural study sites on CRC’s property.

The National Zoo and Mason will jointly raise funds for the complex’s construction, which begins in 2012. In the interim, the Smithsonian-Mason Semester for undergraduates is being offered annually, and new professional training programs will be developed using existing CRC facilities and research sites.

“This community has been designed to provide the most progressive education in conservation studies available anywhere in the world,” says Tom Wood, director of the Mason Center for Conservation Studies.

“People who are practicing conservation all over the world, from researchers and faculty to government and nongovernment organizations, are here participating in the resident learning experience with a diverse array of students.”

Both organizations have a long history of successful collaboration. For many years, Mason undergraduate and graduate students have visited the zoo and CRC as part of their course work. This led to a resident learning community, the Smithsonian-Mason Semester, which was launched in spring 2008 with 15 undergraduates who received 16 units of academic credit.

In addition, a joint fellowship program supports eight Mason graduate students in conservation biology.

“Given the environmental threats to our planet, we must invest in the next generation of conservationists, wildlife practitioners, natural resources managers, decision makers and educators,” says Steve Monfort, associate director for Conservation and Science at the National Zoo.

“By advancing the career development for those who want to protect our planet, we are ensuring a sustainable future.”

Applications are currently being accepted for the 2009 Smithsonian-Mason Semester. For more information, see the Center for Conservation Studies web site.

John Berry, Peter Stearns and G. Wayne Clough
National Zoo Director John Berry, Mason Provost Peter Stearns and Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough.
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