Rochester Institute of Technology is sharing its tiger pride by sponsoring the tiger exhibit at the Seneca Park Zoo.
The collaboration is the latest between RIT and the zoo, which last year signed a formal memorandum of understanding to develop, promote and implement mutually beneficial projects. The sponsorship is being made by RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, Division of Student Affairs and School of Individualized Study.
The zoo has an Amur tiger named Katya, who was born there in 2005.
Several RIT students, faculty and staff members have worked at the zoo over the years from a number of disciplines, including environmental science, museum studies and new media and game design. Future collaboration may include students and faculty from hospitality, marketing, photography, K-12 education and more. RIT engineering graduate students are planning to design and build a feeder box for Katya.
Pamela Reed Sanchez, president/CEO of the Seneca Park Zoo Society, said the partnership with RIT “gives us the opportunity to work with faculty, staff and students on meaningful projects that allow us to further our work. It multiplies our resources tremendously. The faculty and students we’ve met are really interested in solving real-world problems.”
For example, Reed Sanchez said RIT imaging science students plan to create a 3D scanner for insects that the zoo society will use as part of their biodiversity assessments locally and in other ecosystems, including Madagascar.
Reed Sanchez said the zoo society hired two RIT students for what were expected to be six-month positions. That was two years ago, and they are currently employed at the zoo. One is a 3D modeler who has since graduated, and the other is a current RIT student working as a game developer. Both are at the Center for Biodiversity Exploration.
Other RIT connections include James Winebrake, dean of RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, who is chair of the zoo society’s education committee; Jonathan Ntheketha, RIT’s senior assistant director of student success and outreach, who serves as an adviser for the zoo’s new urban ecologists workforce development program; Muhammet Kesgin, an assistant professor in RIT’s department of hospitality and tourism management, who serves on the zoo society’s business operations for guests services committee; Kaitlyn Stack Whitney, a visiting assistant professor in the science, technology and society department and in the environmental science program, who provided guidance for a capstone project related to the zoo’s pollinator habitat restoration projects; Environmental Science Lecturer Elizabeth DiCesare, whose aquatic ecology class replicated the zoo’s One Cubic Foot biodiversity assessment in several areas of the Genesee River and has submitted a National Science Foundation proposal that includes the project as part of a public health assessment; and students from RIT’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies provided potential options for extending the zoo’s brand in signage on site.
The zoo also works closely with the staff at the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute and with RIT’s Office of Sustainability.
Among the most visible work by RIT students, faculty and staff is the zoo’s Center for Biodiversity Exploration, which opened last summer. Professor Steve Jacobs, director of RIT’s Laboratory for Technological Literacy, was instrumental in the creation of the center. With students in the fields of gaming, environmental studies, marketing and a host of other disciplines, a multi-disciplinary class at RIT worked with Zoo Society staff to design, test and build an interactive experience to engage zoo guests in understanding biodiversity and environmental health for zoo guests.
Reed Sanchez said the zoo recently joined the Urban Wildlife Information Network, and the RIT campus will have one of 34 trail cameras set up in public urban spaces throughout the region to share livestream images.
And said she plans to work with RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf in the coming months to create ways to use new technology to make the zoo more inclusive to deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors.