The Journal of Extension -

October 2014 // Volume 52 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW6

Companion Animal and Wildlife Career Day Improves Career Understanding and Likelihood of Pursuing College Degree in Related Field

Five Companion Animal and Wildlife Career Days were hosted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The career days focused on career preparation and opportunities for students within the areas of Animal Science and Fisheries and Wildlife. The career days were during school days and included hands on laboratories, a career panel, and opportunities for high school students to interact with current university undergraduate students. Of the students surveyed, many agreed that they were interested in a career in a related field, were more aware of career choices, and may attend the university after completion of the career day.

Lisa K. Karr-Lilienthal
Associate Professor
Department of Animal Science

Sue Ellen Pegg
Recruitment Coordinator
College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Dennis Brink
Department of Animal Science

Allison Raymond
Admissions Coordinator
Department of Animal Science

University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
Lincoln, Nebraska


During high school, students begin to more seriously explore career options that are related to their current interests. The adolescent years are critical in developing future career and educational goals of youth (Paa & McWhirter, 2000). Students' choices during high school in regards to which courses to take and what programs to be involved in shape the future options for the students' career choices. By high school, most students have narrowed down their interests to between one to three career clusters ("Parent Primer," 2012). Career clusters group occupations based on similar skills or knowledge required to complete them. One of the key goals of youth Extension programs should be to develop life skills in youth that help them to be better developed citizens and skills that can be applied to future careers.

Through career exploration events offered by Extension and university programs, high school students are provided with additional choices for future careers. Programs should provide information about the career path as well as the skills necessary to obtain this career. The Companion Animal and Wildlife Career Day was developed to help high school students explore careers in animal science and natural resources. Both of these career areas are within the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Career Cluster. The goals of the Companion Animal and Wildlife Career Day were to expose high school students to possible careers related to companion animals and wildlife, and to provide students with an understanding of the requirements to pursue one of these careers.

Program Design

Five Companion Animal and Wildlife Career Days were held with one each semester for 2.5 academic years. Between 50 and 80 high school students attended each day, for a total of 229 students. The Career Day consisted of hands on laboratory activities related to companion animal science and fisheries and wildlife. Faculty from the Department of Animal Science and the School of Natural Resources provided the activities. These activities varied slightly between career days. Animal science activities included learning to read pet food labels, predator/prey behavior between different companion animals, methods to estimate weight of horses, and anatomy and physiology of animals. The wildlife-related activities included sessions on herpetology, bat populations, wildlife radio telemetry, sea turtle conservation, and bird ecology.

This event was marketed through high school agriculture teachers, science teachers, and Extension offices. A flyer was prepared inviting high school students interested in learning about careers related to either companion animals or wildlife. Students were required to pre-register for the event, and group sizes were limited to those appropriate for hands-on activities. Students came either as individuals or as part of a class field trip for the day. The optimal program time was from 9 AM to 2:15 PM CST. This time was adjusted based on feedback from high school teachers to ensure they had time to drive to campus in the morning and return to school in time for afterschool activities. The ideal timing would be such that the event started about 1 hour after school started and ended 1 hour before school ended for the day. This time schedule resulted in optimal participation and prevented the need for students to leave early from the career day.

The first session of the morning included a welcome and general career-related talks from the admissions coordinators from both the animal science and fisheries and wildlife programs. Students were then separated into smaller groups and completed two animal science hands on sessions. Students were provided a lunch during which they were seated with a select group of university undergraduate students who were pursuing either Animal Science or Fisheries and Wildlife bachelors of science degrees. The high school students in attendance were able to ask questions about majors, courses, and internships the university students had participated in. Efforts were made to choose undergraduate students with a variety of experiences that would be of interest to the high school students, including those that had interned with zoos, parks departments, dog trainers, or pet food companies. The university students were asked to arrive early so that they were able to start eating prior to the arrival of high school students. This allowed the university students to be spread out to approximately one per table, and they were able to lead a discussion once the high school students were seated and eating.

Following lunch, a career panel spoke. These panels varied between dates, but generally included three to four professionals from career areas such as state or federal wildlife agencies, the zoo, and the pet food industry. Professionals who had completed a minimum of a bachelor's degree were selected for the career panel, and the panel was facilitated by the career services counselor from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Students then participated in the hands-on sessions related to the wildlife industry. Students were surveyed before leaving from the event.

Program Impacts and Implications

Approximately 82% of students (188/229) returned the survey. The mean grade level of the students attending the career day was 11th grade, but ranged from 7th grade to include recent high school graduates. The gender of students attending the career day was split fairly evenly, with 53% of attendees being female and 47% being male. Because the event was advertised through high school agriculture teachers, the majority of students in attendance (greater than 90%) came with school groups as part of a class trip. These classes tended to be from agriculture programs, but the specific courses were not identified. Schools from as far as a 2-hour drive away participated, and individual students traveled as much as 3 hours to attend the event. Hosting an Extension event that was open to high school classes worked well to increase participation in the event compared to weekend or non-school day events.

Many of the students who attend the career day were potentially college bound students. Students indicated they were likely to continue their education after high school (3.9 on a 4 point scale; Table 1). High school students range in career goal maturity and may not be aware of a specific major that fits their interests (Ferry, 2006). However, students are aware that they can attend college and will have the flexibility to change majors. Choosing career paths from the same career cluster (i.e., agriculture, food, and natural resources) allowed students to explore a variety of options within related fields. This would allow for students to be recruited to different programs and to understand the flexibility offered with a variety of college majors within the one event.

Table 1.
High School Student Perceptions After Completion of a Companion Animal and Wildlife Day

Item Mean SD
I plan on continuing my education after high school. 3.9 0.4
I am aware of at least two college choices. 3.6 0.6
I am interested in a student visit at UNL. 3.3 0.7
I am more likely to attend UNL because of the information I received today. 3.0 0.7
I have a better understanding of the companion animal and wildlife industry in Nebraska after attending this program. 3.5 0.5
I am aware of possible careers because of today's sessions. 3.4 0.5
I am currently learning skills that I will use in a future job. 3.3 0.6
I am considering an animal science and/or wildlife related college major. 3.3 0.8

On a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree), n=188

Number of Career Days compiled = 5

At the end of the event, students were interested in attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (3.0 /4) and were more aware of possible careers (3.4/4). Based on admissions data, of the 80 seniors who attended the first four sessions, 44% are currently attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with 51% of those students in a major related to companion animals or wildlife. Extension programs and 4-H are often youths' first contacts with a land-grant university. These programs can serve as effective ways to recruit students to university campuses and improve career development in youth.

Using programs similar to the Companion Animal and Wildlife Career Day may increase the career knowledge of youth and may increase the number of those youth attending the hosting university. Similar programs could be developed for a variety of careers within similar career clusters to highlight key academic programs and college majors. By pairing two related majors, students with varied interests can participate in the career exploration event and receive similar recommendations for career preparation from both areas.


Ferry, N. M. (2006). Factors influencing career choices of adolescents and young adults in rural Pennsylvania. Journal of Extension [On-line]. 44(3). Article 3RIB7. Available at:

Paa, H. K., & McWhirter, E. H. (2000). Perceived influences on high school students' current career expectations. Career Development Quarterly. 49, 29-44.

"Parent Primer on Career Exploration". (2012). Florida Department of Education. Retrieved from: