VOLUME 22 #3

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Kristin Lewis-Waldron, AG98

Kristen Lewis-Waldron
Danielle Quigley
Kristen Lewis-Waldron

ALUMNI | As a UD animal science student in the 1990s, Kristen Lewis-Waldron, AG98, was offered an internship at the Philadelphia Zoo that turned out to be a perfect fit. Eighteen years later, she’s still combining her love of animals and education to create innovative programs there.

Now the zoo’s director of conservation education and integration, Lewis-Waldron works with all departments, from the marketing and development team to the social media unit, and directs conservation messaging at the exhibits in the education area.

She recently helped to create KidZooU, a children’s zoo that provides an engaging experience for youngsters and their families while promoting a lifetime of conservation action through hands-on learning activities.

“We’re trying to achieve a lot through the experience. It’s highly interactive and creates a year-round destination for kids,” Lewis-Waldron says. “It obviously allows for that up-close and personal interaction, which is so important, and it’s a place where kids can practice how to care for animals, make the world a better place for animals and practice conservation behavior.”

She is especially proud of the fact that KidZooU was created using a technique known as universal design.

“We designed the facility so that regardless of your age, your ability, your background, you can access KidZooU,” she says. “We kept in mind things like not just physical accessibility—which is certainly extremely important—but we also thought about other things like cognitive and behavioral accessibility.”

Every animal in KidZooU is identified using braille and American Sign Language and with QR codes that are accessible in 14 different languages.

The designers also looked at how to reach children with autism, creating picture-oriented preplanning systems for the kids. “They can go on our website, look at a map of KidZooU and create a schedule for themselves,” Lewis-Waldron says. “They can decide ‘I’m going to go see the goats first, then I’m going to go see the chickens, and then I’m going to go see the mini-horses,’ and then bring that with them and find those same symbols on the universally designed graphics.”

KidZooU was a multi-year effort in which the Philadelphia Zoo got valuable help from many organizations in the special needs communities across the region, she says.

Lewis-Waldron’s career has encompassed a variety of positions since that initial nutrition internship that focused on the Micronesian kingfisher, a bird that is now extinct in the wild. After graduation, she worked with the zoo’s public relations team for two years before realizing how much she missed interacting with animals and children and that her real passion was in education.

“I started volunteering on my weekends in the education department for the zoo and shifted over to that in the year 2000, and I’ve been in education ever since,” she says, adding that one of her favorite parts of the job is teaching children about the need for animal conservation.

Another favorite responsibility is one that has brought her career full circle—directing the zoo’s internship program, where staff members recruit 100 interns annually.

“I feel like I’m kind of giving back to the college students like I once was in recruiting people to help share our message,” Lewis-Waldron says.

Article by Adam Thomas

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