Teacher starts education program at zoo



Joe Birge

A vast sea of people at the zoo during the day followed by an intimate meeting with students in the evening is a daily experience for Elizabeth Mulkerrin.

As the director of education at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and an adjunct instructor at UNO, Mulkerrin flirts with her two great loves in life, education and natural sciences.

She found her love for these topics while studying biology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After several semesters of “chasing fish,” she finished with a master of science degree in educational administration. She started teaching biology at Burke High School in 1994, and taught full-time for six years. It wasn’t until she heard the unexpected calling of the Henry Doorly Zoo, when she combined her two great passions.

“The Henry Doorly Zoo and Burke made a partnership to start a ‘high school,’” said Mulkerrin, “The zoo interviewed teachers and they basically said that if they have the program, it’s going to be with Elizabeth. I was asked by the director if I would come over to the dark side of education, which is what he called Informal Science Education.”

In 2000, Mulkerrin broke her contract with Burke to start the education program at the zoo. Students enrolled in Informal Science Education classes at the zoo have the opportunity to get out of the classroom and get their hands dirty. Since becoming the its director of education, Mulkerrin hasn’t been a full-time teacher. Instead, she has satisfied her desire to directly teach students by serving as an adjunct instructor sporadically throughout the years.

“Being an adjunct gives me my student fix, since I don’t teach full-time anymore,” Mulkerrin said with a sparkle in her eye, “When I teach in the evenings, I still get to be with students. They are like really big kids.”

Currently, Mulkerrin teaches one class. This fall is her second semester teaching Trends and Strategies in Science Education, which is a master’s course in the education program. She uses the class to help students understand and analyze trends in education throughout the United States.

Mulkerrin describes her class curriculum as: “Keeping up with what’s new and what’s different with teachers’ ideas about teaching in the classroom. We also go over how to use resources in our communities, so we go on field trips to different corporations to show how they can integrate it.”