AlumniCollege of Arts and Sciences

This teacher’s pets crawl and croak

Alumna helps build education program at Naples Zoo

Rachel Forbes (’08, Marine Science) expected she would work with animals one day, but she didn’t expect the scorpions.

In Forbes’ role as the education programs manager at the Naples Zoo, scorpions come with the job. Most of her workdays start with taking care of the animals in her department.

“We have a hedgehog, a bearded dragon, two scorpions, and then a frog and a toad that we bring to all of our programs,” Forbes said.

Her love for animals began long before she started working at the zoo. In fact, she chose to attend FGCU, far from her hometown near Chicago, specifically to study marine science in Southwest Florida. But she said she has continued to learn more and more, even after graduation.

Between her time at FGCU and her job with the Naples Zoo, Forbes has worked or interned as a veterinary assistant, a middle school science teacher, in the Sea Turtle Care Department at Mote Marine Lab, at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and even as a leatherback sea turtle researcher.

“We did nighttime surveys of sea turtles that were coming up to nest on the beach,” Forbes said. “I was nocturnal for about nine weeks.”

Forbes said she patrolled beaches on the east coast of Florida from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., looking for leatherback sea turtles and recording her observations.

Now just a few months into the job she calls a “perfect combination of two of my passions” – teaching and animals – she leapt at the opportunity to work at the Naples Zoo so she could have the chance to help build its relatively new education department.

She spends her days caring for animals, as well as developing programs and teaching students about taking care of the environment both at the zoo and in Collier County classrooms.

“With all of our programs, the biggest thing is we want to inspire them to have a love for the environment, a love for the wildlife, so they can learn ways that they themselves can protect these areas,” Forbes said. “We need to show these kids that this wildlife is important and they deserve our respect.”

Forbes’ favorite part of being at zoo is working with passionate coworkers.

“Every staff member there, they love what they do, and they love trying to inspire people,” she said. “It makes it a really fun place to work.”

Forbes’ recommendation to FGCU students and graduates who want to follow a similar path is to test out different internships and experiences before settling into a career.

Now happy in her job, Forbes said she didn’t even realize she enjoyed teaching until she worked as a teacher for two years after earning her undergraduate degree.

“Go out and really experience as much as you can before you find a job, because there are a lot of different avenues that you can take,” Forbes said. “It’s really great and really valuable to get as much experience as possible.”