Student Finds Rich Experiences at SMSC

Student Finds Rich Experiences at SMSC
Deanna Moore at the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation

When Deanna Moore, an integrative studies major, first arrived at George Mason University, she never thought she would spend part of her junior year as an intern, studying endangered cats with researchers from the Smithsonian’s Center for Species Survival. From her first semester at Mason as a psychology major, to her junior year at the Smithsonian-Mason School for Conservation (SMSC) in Front Royal, Moore knows that she has found her path. 

In fact, when Moore looks back at the past three years she says, “It’s been a whirlwind.”

Originally from Mappsville, Virginia, Moore was drawn to Mason by a friend enrolled here. She began college studying psychology but changed majors, entering New Century College’s integrative studies program with a concentration in applied global conservation.

One of Moore’s first courses was NCLC 475: Conservation Behaviors taught by Professor Elizabeth Freemen. In this course, she studied animal behaviors, biodiversity, species loss and how they impact the different aspects of conservation. Moore went on field visits to the National Zoo and was involved in a research project about the importance of housing pairs of Golden Lion Tamarins together in captivity. 

Moore knew other students who had spent a semester at SMSC, gaining incredible learning opportunities. She toured the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal and said, “I knew the program was something I had to do in order to reach my career goals.“

Working with the SMSC admissions coordinator Lisa Des Jardins, Moore enrolled in SMSC for fall 2015. In addition to her courses in conservation and exploration of nearby Shenandoah National Park, Moore interned one day a week as a Keeper Aide in the birdhouse at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

During her courses at SMSC, Moore was offered a semester-long internship at SCBI’s Center for Species Survival working in a lab with the three-person team studying reproductive biology of cheetahs and clouded leopards. Moore, who had an interest in working at a big cat rescue, jumped at the opportunity.

During this spring semester, she spends eight hours a day in the lab extracting hormones from fecal and urine samples from animals living at SCBI. The team hopes to better understand how to improve reproductive success rates among the Smithsonian’s big cats. Although Moore works directly with samples from the cats at SCBI, she rarely sees them, as they live in a remote area of campus, to reduce any stress to the animals.

Moore has loved her time at SMSC. She said, “It’s amazing. You are completely immersed in your field. Everyone has the same interests and you get an in-depth look at conservation. I’ve loved the field work and the lab work…You are constantly refining your research, writing and analytical thinking skills. You always have someone there with you, pushing you and telling you it will be hard, but you can do it.”

Her time at SMSC has also opened up two potential career paths for Moore. She is considering future work in either the research side or the communication and outreach side of conservation. She has gained valuable experience that prepares her for any career.

Des Jardins said, "I have enjoyed working with Deanna so much that I have asked her to be our inaugural SMSC Student Ambassador working with me at recruitment events. One of her many strengths is her ability to describe her time at SMSC with such enthusiasm that she is very inspiring to potential students."

Moore admitted that although the future looks grim for many species and landscapes, she does not allow that to deter her.

She said, “Working in conservation has helped me to realize how much of an impact individuals and communities can have on their environment. I know that if I do what I love, and I do it well, I can make a positive impact…Sure it gets rough sometimes, but then I think about the water, the air, the orangutans, the birds who can’t speak for themselves and it motivates me to do more and be their voice.”