Full Interview: Jackie Bray

Since I was a child I have had an insatiable curiosity about the natural world, especially as it related to the biology of the species around me.” – Jackie Bray

Jackie Bray

Where are you from originally? I’m a Cincinnatian through and through. I was born at Good Samaritan Hospital and have lived here all my life.

What is your job title? I’m an Associate Director with RAPTOR, Inc. I have also work as a trainer with the Wings of Wonder Bird Show at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. I also help manage the Kea Encounter exhibit at the zoo.

Are you working towards one specific goal? I hope to have a significant positive, long-lasting impact on avian wildlife conservation.

Why did you choose to go into this career field? Because I fell in love with wildlife, especially avian species, and realized how important they are to our Earth and our continued healthy existence. I also realized I could make a positive difference in this world while engaging in activities I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s personally fulfilling.

What’s the coolest thing you have done at your job? What’s your favorite thing about your job? My job is cool every day. I especially like developing a trusting relationship with the education birds and learning to understand the ways in which they communicate with us. I love treating an injured or ill bird and returning it back to the wild. I also like meeting interesting people who share my passion for avian wildlife.

If a girl was interested in a career such as yours, what does she need to know? What tips/suggestions would you share? Spend time volunteering and talking to others who work in the field. It’s important to understand what you’re actually getting into. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I spend a lot more time cleaning enclosures and cutting up dead mice than I do handling a bird on the glove.

Did you know anyone with this job before you decided on this career path? No. I started on this career path by visiting the zoo and falling in love with the birds. I ended up signing up and working as a volunteer, then enrolling in the Miami University graduate degree program that was being conducted on zoo grounds. I served an internship with the Bird Show and was offered a paid position afterwards. My kea conservation work began as part of my master’s degree requirements. My raptor rehabilitation work began after meeting some highly skilled and passionate rehabilitators doing great conservation work in our local Cincinnati community.

Why do you think young women should study science? Because women have just as much to contribute to any field of study as any man. The more scientists we have working to further our understanding of our world, the better.  I think the sex of the researcher is irrelevant.

Did you encounter any struggles on your path to this job? Yes. There are many people who want to work with animals and are willing to do the work for little or no money, so it is challenging to secure a well-paid position. This is a highly competitive field that most people choose to fulfill their passion, not their wallets.

What do you still want to study/work on? Raptor rehabilitation, non-profit management, grant writing, expanding my conservation impact.

Where did you go to school (high school and college)? My son likes to tease me about being a permanent student. I graduated from Milford High School where I studied general college-prep courses. I attended Bowling Green State University and Northern Kentucky University where I studied nursing but didn’t finish the degree. Instead, I completed the paramedic program at the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated class valedictorian. After working several years as a paramedic and 911 dispatcher, I went back to school to study education.

I completed an Associate of Arts degree at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College focusing on the general education requirements for a Bachelor of Arts in Education degree (graduated Summa Cum Laude). I then transferred to Northern Kentucky University and completed a BA in Middle Grades Education with minors in English and Mathematics (graduated Summa Cum Laude). I later completed a Master of Arts in Zoology degree from Miami University in partnership with Project Dragonfly and the Cincinnati Zoo.

How long did you need to go to school? I consider myself a lifelong learner. As opportunities arose, I tried to make the most of them. I believe formal education is very important, but I also believe it’s important to seek out opportunities to gain practical experience, such as volunteer opportunities, internships, etc. My conservation work is not directly dependent on a college degree, but it does require a highly educated person with advanced skills in oral and written communication, research, science, etc.  These skills are most often obtained in pursuit of a college degree.

Besides going to school/college, did you have to do anything else to prep for your career? In addition to the things discussed above, I also stay up to date by reading published materials in my field and I attend conferences and workshops when possible.

Who is your favorite female scientist? Dr. Terri Roth, VP of Conservation and Science and Director of the Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Terri’s work with Sumatran rhinos and other endangered species is legendary. She is a highly respected principal researcher in reproductive biology that focuses her talents on the preservation of endangered wildlife.

What do you do for fun? I like to take short, interesting online classes or attend workshops and conferences to satisfy my curiosity and to increase my abilities. Most importantly, I like to spend my time volunteering on projects that benefit avian species, especially the kea parrot from New Zealand and raptor species (birds of prey) native to our local Cincinnati area.

What is your first memory of science, either by reading, lecture, observation, etc.? My first memory of science was reading through my parents’ Emergency Medical Technician manuals. When I was young, both of my parents were very active with our local volunteer ambulance service and fire department. I knew a lot more about where babies actually came from than my fellow elementary school classmates! My oldest sister and I followed in their footsteps. My sister has made a very successful lifelong career out of it.

Did you always like science? Yes, but I didn’t see it as science when I was younger. I was just interested in the complexity of life and how cells, organs and systems worked together to create a living organism. As I got older, I gained a greater appreciation for the elegance and complexity of nature in general.

What do you enjoy about science? My favorite thing about science is that there is always more to learn. Each answer we discover gives rise to 10 more questions. Engaging in scientific inquiry gives me great personal satisfaction and, hopefully, will contribute in a positive way to our understanding of our world.

Is anyone from your family in a field of science? My sister, Rita Burroughs, is a firefighter/paramedic captain. Her career requires her to have great understanding in many scientific fields, such as biology, medicine, fire science, physics, psychology, engineering, etc.  Science is everywhere so fields that you might not consider science-related probably require scientific knowledge. Every person should have a strong science background to be a well-rounded, educated, contributing member of society.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? Align yourself with respectable, like-minded individuals and organizations. Develop your character and guard your reputation. Explore a wide variety of interests and discover what you are passionate about, then find a way to make a living doing what you love. Give back to your community and use your time on Earth to make a positive and meaningful contribution.

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