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Zoo News Blog

Congrats to our 2022 Zoo Crew Scholarship and Conservation Award Recipients

Every year, the Houston Zoo Teen Programs honors several exceptional teens from our Zoo Crew program with a $2,000 scholarship. Recipients are chosen based on their dedication and outstanding performance in the Zoo Crew program. These are teens who have dedicated countless hours of their time to educating our guests, mentoring our campers, caring for our animals, and taking action to save animals in the wild. The scholarships are funded by Houston Zoo and the Don and Diane Kendall Zoo Crew Scholarship Fund. This year we have selected four outstanding and motivated teens as the recipients of the 2022 Zoo Crew Scholarship.

2022 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipients

Justin Doud
My name is Justin Doud, and I’m a senior at The Woodlands College Park High School. I’ve been a part of Zoo Crew for the past five years, having served the last 2 of those as one of the founding Lead Conservation Mentors on the Teen Leadership Council. My time in this position allowed me to interact with like minded teens and to help educate the next generation of conservation heroes. Before my time on the Teen Leadership Council, I participated in a variety of areas in Zoo Crew, including as a Junior Zookeeper, giving me the opportunity to interact directly with our animals in the Children’s Zoo and to learn from some of the best zoological professionals in the field, in my only slightly biased opinion.

I can say without a doubt that the past 5 years have been some of the best of my life. Zoo Crew has molded me into the person I am today, building my passion for wildlife and nature from the ground up and giving me an appreciation for our planet in a way I never thought possible. The people I’ve met and the things that I’ve learned have permanently transformed me, and the relationships that I’ve made will last a lifetime. Those who know me know how much I consider the Houston Zoo a second home, and it’s remained that way for a third of my life, providing me an outlet for my stress, a source for education, and a community of teenagers that remain dedicated to making the world a better place.

Annie Watts
Hi, my name is Annie Watts, and I am a Lead Naturalist for the Houston Zoo Crew. Since I was little, I have always had a passion for wildlife. I loved playing in the mud, feeding my grandparents’ horses, and climbing trees. Zoo Crew inspired me to take initiative within my school and community to raise awareness and lead projects on different environmental issues. I currently attend Kinder HSPVA, where I study visual arts for half the school day. I use art as a vessel to raise awareness on different environmental issues, and to find more sustainable ways to create everyday products and clothing apparel. At my school, I am a member of the sustainability club, and vice president of the biology club where I collaborate with my peers to learn about nature and science, as well as participate in park cleanups and other conservation-based volunteer projects. Being a part of Zoo Crew helped me find direction in life, and grow as a person. I have made close friends, learned how to collaborate with others, developed communication skills and time management, as well as many other important life skills throughout the program.

In the future, I would like to work first hand in nature and ecosystems studying animal behavior, the land and environment, and the way people interact with them. I want to work directly with the local communities in these regions to help make beneficial changes within society to help the environment. In college, I will major in zoology and plan to minor in natural resource management or conservation science. I hope to work with others to help the environment and be a leader in conservation.

Samantha Castro
Hi, my name is Samantha Castro. I have been a part of Zoo Crew for the past five years, but the Houston Zoo has been my home for almost 10 years.

Most of my time in Zoo Crew has been spent working in the camp. While working directly with campers in my beginning years, I was a Lead Camp Mentor in the Teen Leadership Council this past summer. My role shifted from directly working with kids to helping new Zoo Crew Camp Mentors discover their role in the camp space. With this past summer being my last in the program, I was proud to leave my legacy through our new camp mentors.

Zoo Crew has allowed me to nurture my passion and provide direction for my future. I am excited to begin my next adventure and continue educating our next generation of conservation heroes!

Jake Wolff
Hi, I’m Jake Wolff and I have been in the Zoo Crew Program for the past five years. As a part of the zoo’s teen leadership council, I have spent hundreds of hours helping to teach guests and other zoo crew about our wonderful animals and what they can do to save them in the wild. Over the past Summer, I was lucky enough to be selected as a junior zookeeper for Elephants. Getting to connect with the animals was a special experience that I will carry for the rest of my life.

Outside of the zoo I have used my experiences in Zoo Crew to reach others in the community about saving wildlife. I created a social media campaign that reached over a thousand people online and led to the removal of over 200 pounds of trash from Willow Watering Hole.

I can’t wait to use all the experience and skills I’ve gained from Zoo Crew as I move on to college and launch my professional career. I hope to study Zoo and Conservation Science and spread the message of conservation to all who will listen. Zoo Crew has been an integral part of shaping me into the person I am today and I couldn’t be more grateful for this scholarship and the opportunity the zoo has given to me.


2022 Alban-Heiser Conservation Award Recipients

The Houston Zoo values supporting the next generation of wildlife saving leaders. The Alban-Heiser Conservation Award was created to support a Texas citizen, citizens or organization in recognition of notable contributions to appreciation and preservation or the earth’s heritage of living creatures, their environment, their ecology and their relation to human welfare. This year we have selected two outstanding teens in our Zoo Crew program who have made significant wildlife-saving actions in their communities.

Skyler Nix
Hi, my name is Skyler Nix. I was a part of the Zoo Crew program for five years of my life. I was a founding member of the Zoo’s Teen Leadership Council and served as a Lead Naturalist for two years and was a co-chair of the Zoo’s Snake-Saving Campaign, working to foster new interpretations of and appreciation for these misunderstood species.

In my community, I led The Purple Martin Project at Seven Lakes High School. The Purple Martin Project is a student-led, observational project which manages a colony of purple martins which is based from the Bog, Seven Lakes High School’s on-campus wetland. This project, initiated in early 2021, started with a desire to further better the impact made on the local wildlife in our community and campus as well as to create new, meaningful opportunities for project participants. Purple martins are a very unique bird species, for they are extreme habitat specialists and almost entirely dependent on man-made nesting spaces. In the project’s first season, the original starting colony of 16 purple martins doubled its size with an estimated 40 individuals at the end of their season. Zoo Crew changed my perspective of the world as well as of my place in it.

As result of my experiences in this program, I have cemented my passions, and am pursuing a major in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at Texas A&M University, and hope to one day be a leader in conservation!

Juliet Nguyen
Hi, I’m Juliet! I am a freshman at DeBakey High School and a proud Zoo Crew volunteer. I love every minute spent at the Houston Zoo! Some of my earliest memories are of hunting bugs and identifying plants with my grandmother at her home in the forest. Not too much later, in pre-school, I spent a lot of time with friends digging in the dirt, playing in the rain, picking flowers (unsanctioned), and caring for the classroom bunny. I loved nature, and I also loved being outside. Wild Kratts was the only thing that could tempt me to go inside. When I wasn’t watching Wild Kratts, I found creative ways to explore in the city. I spent hours tagging and releasing lizards in my front yard. I was ever hopeful a tagged lizard would return to me. Throughout this time, I was always encouraged to be curious, to question, and to contemplate.

Flash forward. This past year my mom told me about the endangered Houston Toad. I Googled to learn more. I read that, long ago, there had been tens of thousands of Houston Toads in Texas but, by 1960, there were hardly any. I then read about the Houston Zoo’s Houston Toad Recovery program. I wanted to understand more about what had happened to the Houston Toad and to help the Houston Zoo in its efforts to reestablish the Houston Toad. I interviewed experts, Amy Bialo, Houston Zoo Herpetology Zookeeper, and Dr. Michael Forstner, Regents Professor of Biology at Texas State University. They are both directly involved in Houston Toad recovery, breeding, and release. From my research and these invaluable interviews, I developed a campaign to increase awareness and raise funds for the breeding program. I am so grateful to Ms. Bialo and Dr. Forster! I now know a lot about the Houston Toad and have been introduced to restoration science, the complexities of native ecosystems, the importance of genetic diversity, and much more! The knowledge they shared with me was shared with others. The concern and response for our hometown Houston Toad were very encouraging! On a broader scale, I hope that understanding the root causes behind dwindling populations and the negative effects of disrupted ecosystems – on all life – will lead more people to take action to prevent it.