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Shelley Dawicki
508 495-2378

August 25,2008
166 Water Street
Woods Hole MA 02543

Elizabeth Benson (North Easton, Mass.)

Liz Benson pets elephant
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Liz Benson with an elephant during the WHSA student visit to New Bedford's Buttonwood Park Zoo. (Credit: Woods Hole Science Aquarium/NOAA)

Liz works with Bumper, a one-year-old harbor seal who was blinded in a shark attack and cannot be released back to the wild. WHSA seal handlers use positive reinforcement (including food) to help teach the animals husbandry and other behaviors. (Credit: Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA)

Related Links
Woods Hole Science Aquarium
Bradford E. Brown Student Internship Program

For the past few summers, Elizabeth Benson of North Easton, Mass., has combined her love of animals and the ocean to volunteer as a high school student and more recently to work as a college student intern at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium in Falmouth, Mass.  What makes it a bit unusual is her career interest. She wants to be an equine physical therapist, working with horses.

While horses are clearly not part of the Aquarium’s collection, she says working with the harbor seals and other marine animals has provided her with an opportunity to learn diverse training methods and gain experience using positive reinforcement methods. It has also enabled her to learn her own strengths and weaknesses in a professional work setting, and to work with the other interns and Aquarium staff as a team with diverse backgrounds.

A 2006 graduate of Oliver Ames High School in Easton, where she played high school and travel team soccer and was a member of the varsity swim team, Benson also played flute in the school band and was a member of the National Honor Society.

Now a junior at UMASS Lowell, Benson is a member of the college’s equestrian team and is majoring in exercise physiology since equine physical therapy is not a major and is a career path that will require specialized training and experience.

Benson is well on her way, having worked at the Sharon Veterinary Clinic as a technician caring for hospitalized animals, and at Kyriebrook Farm in West Bridgewater where she cared for more than 20 horses.  She also volunteered at Handi-Kids Therapeutic Riding Center in West Bridgewater, teaching disabled children how to ride horses, and recently helped care for an elderly dementia patient.
A summer resident of Falmouth, Benson attended the Children’s School of Science in Woods Hole when she was younger, and was a high school summer intern at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium in 2004. She enjoyed that experience so much she applied a few years later to the Bradford E. Brown Student Internship Program for college students and was accepted. The program is named for a retired NOAA Fisheries scientist who was a leader in recruiting young people into fishery science.

During the summer of 2007 Benson worked as an aquarium program assistant to care for the animals, plan public events and work with the high school interns. She applied and was accepted again in 2008.

“This summer working with the seals was by far my favorite activity,” the veteran intern said. “It was a great opportunity to be able to work with animals, teaching them behaviors that will help them survive and thrive here since they cannot be re-released into the wild.” 

Benson said she didn’t mind the other routine duties that come with the internship, like cleaning tanks, preparing food and feeding the various animals, and making sure the water systems are working properly.

“It is one of the best jobs you could have,” she said of being part of the Aquarium team. “You learn so much for the year-round staff, and you feel respected and appreciated. Being part of the diverse community in Woods Hole, where people come from all over the world and from so many different backgrounds, is amazing.  It is fun to meet people and learn about them. And you cannot beat the environment – being by the ocean and going out on collecting trips to the beach is not a bad way to spend the summer!”

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