Zookeeper Picture

OTC graduate fulfills dream of being a zookeeper

From the age of 3, Lauren Sweet dreamed of being a zookeeper. Now, at age 21, the OTC graduate is living the dream as a zookeeper and giraffe trainer at Dickerson Park Zoo.

“I loved animals growing up and always wanted to work with them,” said Lauren, who graduated from OTC last May with an Associate of Arts degree.

While she was homeschooled for 12 years, Lauren would take trips to the zoo and the Springfield Nature Center with her mother. When she was 12, she volunteered at Wonders of Wildlife.

“I worked in the education center when it opened and offered public programs. I loved working with the kids,” she said.

Lauren attended OTC for college to take her general education courses and enrolled in the Honors Program because she liked the smaller class sizes.

“I loved the Honors Program. I liked how we could interact with the teachers,” she said. I wanted to stay out of debt so I came to OTC. I’m glad I was able to be debt-free and get a good education.”

“It was challenging at OTC. I felt like I earned my degree. I didn’t feel like a number. I felt like a person.”

While she is working full-time at the zoo doing a variety of jobs, Lauren is also attending Missouri State University where she is working on her degree in wildlife conservation and management.

Lauren said working with animals is her passion and giraffes are her favorite.

“Lauren always greets everyone with a smile and a positive, enthusiastic attitude, which is refreshing,” said Ken Harmon, senior zookeeper at the Dickerson Park Zoo. “She is always willing to help.”

No matter what is asked of her in her job at the zoo, Lauren is quick to oblige.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Lauren said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to work at a zoo and I love this zoo.”