My name is Matthew Pron and I am a Carnivore Keeper at Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation located in Florida. As a Carnivore Keeper I am tasked with providing husbandry needs to 27 different animals including lions, tigers, spotted and striped hyenas, caracals, African servals, bobcats, cougars and Siberian/Eurasian lynx. Animal husbandry is an endless list of projects, tasks and daily responsibilities that focus on the care of wild and exotic animals.

One may find that my blog may differ from that of my colleagues and fellow Alumni of Bel Air High School’s (BAHS) Biomedical Sciences Program. For example, the course work I completed in High School does not directly correlate to the course work I completed in college. However, I can assure you there are countless lessons to be learned from this program that have directly led to my success over the years.

At a very young age a passion for helping animals was instilled in my brain. Individuals like Steve Irwin – “The Crocodile Hunter”, Jeff Corwin, Jane Goodall and Kevin Richardson – “The Lion Whisperer” had inspired me to take a dive into the animal field. Growing up when people asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always answered “I want to be a veterinarian and help animals.” It was this mindset that lead me to the Biomedical Sciences Program at BAHS.

In 2013 I began my college career at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in the fall, majoring in Animal Science. One of the lessons I used immediately from Biomed was to never leave a question unanswered. At BAHS we were encouraged to always ask questions. I remember sitting in my first lecture for a Biology course where I was 1 of 700 students. Many individuals were timid, maybe even frightened to ask a question in front of so many students – I was not one of them. If I didn’t understand a concept, I did not think twice about putting my hand up and making certain the professor knew I had a question that needed to be answered. 

Within the Biomed curriculum we often had group projects to complete. When I switched majors from Animal Science to Wildlife and Fisheries Science, I found myself in more group projects. Many of my fellow peers in college had never actually been part of a group project and it showed. Because of the Biomed program I was comfortable in a group setting and knew how to divide the work up equally and challenge others to work for a common goal. So often I found myself in a leadership role because of the confidence I had gained from the Biomed Program. 

Presentations…Presentations…Presentations. Biomed was filled with them! By completing presentations in high school, I was able to prepare and easily do them in college, and even now in my professional career. When I was an intern at the Philadelphia Zoo, I completed an animal behavior project where I studied Maned Wolves. We were tasked with developing a thesis and creating an ethogram to see if we were correct or not. At the end, we had to present our findings to other interns, staff members in the education department, zoo keepers, researchers from the zoo (including zoologist, animal behavioralists, conservationist) and even the CEO and COO of the zoo made an appearance. Biomed had taught me when presenting to use a PowerPoint as a tool, follow a 6 by 6 format, meaning 6 bullet points with 6 words in each point. At BAHS we were taught to never read from the slide, instead know your material and speak to the audience. I watched as many of my peers followed the “do nots” of presenting. However, because of what I learned from the Biomed program, I was able to make a positive impression on professionals in my field.

Lastly, Biomed taught me to think outside of the box. Our senior year at BAHS we were in the course Biomedical Innovations. We had a capstone project where we shadowed an individual in a profession and created an innovation to be made in the field. This course was challenging but encouraged us to use everything we had learned to be exploratory, to ask “Is there another way?” This critical thinking has carried over into my professional career. While working as an Animal Care Specialist in North Carolina, I had the opportunity to work with primates. It was in March of 2018 that my boss had informed me the vet was coming out in June to do a tuberculous test on our primates. She explained the primates would need to be sedated but was unsure how we were going to accomplish that. A fellow keeper and I decided we would train the monkeys for a voluntary injection behavior. Training a monkey is not like training your dog to “sit.” A lot goes into it including how we were going to get them to sit still, where were they going to place their arm, what were we going to use as a reward/motivation? By late May early June my fellow keeper and I had successfully trained a behavior. We innovated a wooden pole outside of the habitat for the monkeys to reach out and grab. Needless to say, when the vet came, the sedation process was flawless due to our innovative idea!

All in all, I learned a great deal from the Biomed Program. Many of my colleagues have went on to pursue careers in the medical field, but with the stories I have told, you can see that the Biomed program can influence students in other ways. It also has created some of my best memories. When I was a Sophomore at BAHS I was chosen to represent Project Lead The Way in the Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. I remember dissecting an eye and explaining to kids, adults, scientists and other individuals all the unique anatomy and biology the eye has to allow us to see. Though educating people was a remarkable experience, the best part of that trip was meeting Bill Nye The Science Guy!