Nicole Powell has a nose for career success; but when it comes to stinky barns, she can’t smell a thing.
Nicole is currently a “Swing Keeper” at the Memphis Zoo – which means she gets to move around from one area to another depending on where she’s needed. One day she might be bottle-feeding baby goats, and another day she’s helping African Red River Hogs take a dip in the swimming pool. Nicole says they have young visitors who won’t go into some of the places where she works because they say it smells so bad; “but honestly, I smell nothing!”
Nicole was a Biology major (Chemistry minor), and she’s known for a long time this is the kind of work she wanted to do. At the end of her junior year at Emory & Henry she did an unpaid internship at the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri. But zoo work doesn’t come easily.
She has sent out 130 job applications. After graduation, she completed additional unpaid internships in Columbus, Ohio, and New Orleans. Nicole says most descriptions for job openings ask for several years of paid experience but sometimes they’ll accept unpaid work because they expect up-and-comers to do that. “Three internships is average, but some do five.”
She’s happy to have this job in Memphis, even if it is only a part-time position. She understands that this is how it works: you get in the system and then you have the chance to move around to the best zoos and bigger jobs. When the chance arises, “I have to take the opportunity.”
Nicole admits to wishing she could get back a bit closer to her home state of North Carolina, but she is willing to do what she needs to do in order to get closer to a fulltime, fulfilling career in zoo work, especially if it’s a chance to work with giraffes. “I’d move anywhere for that job!”