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A Teachable Kingdom
When Hannah O’Malley ’12 walks through the doors of Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom every day, she can look back to one particular class she took at Washington College. It was called Principles of Teaching.
The professor “talked about site-based education, non-traditional teaching in parks, getting outside the classroom,” she says. O’Malley was majoring in biology and pursuing secondary education certification. That class got her thinking about all the ways she could combine her love of both disciplines, just not in a typical bricks-and-mortar setting. Even then, she says, she had her eye on an internship position at Disney in Orlando, Florida.
She’s been working there for a year-and-a-half now; her current job title is conservation education trainee, and she works with the organization’s education department developing programs about wildlife and wild places for local community groups. In her first two internships with Disney, she helped launch the Wilderness Explorers program park-wide, and worked with the group education team developing curriculum and marketing materials for the organization’s Conservation Day camps. Before Disney, she taught ecology at a YMCA in South Carolina.
“It was an idea and a passion that grew while I was at Washington College,” O’Malley says. “I really love science. I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher. But the more biology classes I took, and the more I saw how much my professors loved teaching, I thought, I could be good at that.”
It’s the nature of study at WC, she says, that made it so easy to combine both disciplines and consider various ways to use them.
“The biology department doesn’t just talk about going to med school. The secondary education department doesn’t just talk about teaching for the rest of your life,” OMalley says. “They go out of their way to find alternatives, and they show you that it’s OK to go the traditional route, but you don’t have to, and here are some ways to go in another direction.”
That interdisciplinary thinking was also evident during O’Malley’s two summers as a research student in biology at WC. Not only did she present her work at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the education department still uses her research poster “to show local and prospective teachers how we encourage our students to combine their talents, think outside the box, and use critical thinking and place-based education to think globally,” says Erin M. Counihan, the department’s secondary education field experience coordinator.
O’Malley says she’s still in contact with her WC teachers, who help her out if she has a professional question.
“They inspired me to do what I’m best at, and to give back.”