Did you know that as of this past December the Oakland Zoo has a new Education Director? But you’re unlikely to meet this person on your average visit to the Zoo, so I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you something about her. Her name is Bo De Long-Cotty. Overseeing a professional staff of more than a dozen spirited individuals, Bo is responsible for shaping and guiding the science and conservation education vision of the Oakland Zoo through its many community outreach and curriculum-based science programs. I recently had the chance to sit down with her for a most enjoyable and informative chat. I already knew much about her extensive qualifications (nearly two decades in not-for-profit fields such as health and human development, science program and curriculum development, non-formal science education—even a ten year stint as an EMT as well as earning an MA from Columbia and a PhD from UC Berkeley.) Wanting to learn what lies ahead, I asked Bo about her passions and dreams for the department.
I was curious how the transition to her new job was progressing. “It’s going well,” she said, adding that she finds the process fascinating. When I asked Bo what attracted her to the Oakland Zoo, she replied, “It’s a fun place, with a family atmosphere and huge opportunities for creativity in science education—in fields as diverse as art, crafts, music, drama, writing, even poetry.” Yet it was also the timing that attracted her, as she sees the Oakland Zoo “on the verge of expanding in so many ways, especially in how we partner with schools in science education.”
I asked her what makes her a good fit for this important position here at the Oakland Zoo. With her background in developmental psychology, Bo realizes that every child sees the world differently, based on their background, age and other factors. They also learn about the world differently. Knowing how kids learn, play, socialize, and even develop a sense of humor aids her in structuring science programming for the department. “If I were five years old,” she queried, “what things would be important to me? What am I capable of learning?” This insight is invaluable in getting through to a youngster who may be here at the Zoo for only a short period of time, and Bo believes that everyone should leave here with something learned.
Bo’s a big believer in the value of informal (fun-based) education which has been shown to reach children in ways that are often not part of formal education. Describing her approach as holistic, Bo also strives to infuse socialization into the learning environment: “Not just teaching the facts, but also promoting empathy for other living things.”
In her personal life, Bo and her husband enjoy such diverse cultural pursuits as opera, local theater, poetry slams, monster truck rallies and stock car races, even roller derby. As an avid birder, Bo truly appreciates the privilege of seeing wild animals—even if it’s something as ordinary as an opossum wandering through her back yard at home. And she wants to instill that same appreciation in everyone who visits the Zoo.
Speaking of animals, I asked Bo what her favorite was. Without hesitation, she
said a river otter—one of our most popular residents here at the Zoo. “It’s their mixture of playfulness and industriousness that I admire. They’re very social but always busy working. It’s a well-balanced community.”
Well, she’s got to get back to work; another busload of eager school kids just pulled in. Come by sometime and see what’s new at the Oakland Zoo!