Berni Klickner Leahy
Veterinary Tech at Central Park Zoo in New York City
Berni’s story in her own words.
In May 1980, I received a B.A. in Literature from Sangamon State University, now UIS. Even though attending graduate school was a lifelong ambition of mine, as the years went by, it seemed harder and harder to consider when and how I would get to graduate school.
I moved to New York City in 1985, and a few years later decided to go back to school to earn a veterinary technician degree. Because this was an Associates in Applied Science, it may have seemed like a step back, but the vet tech degree and state license opened many doors for me and created a wonderful career.
For over 23 years now, I have been the veterinary technician at the Central Park Zoo, and there are no words to express what an extraordinary opportunity that has been. My job is busy, demanding, and yet rewarding every single day.
Even so, a few years ago I realized I still had that nagging desire to go to graduate school. My lifelong interest in public policy was stronger than ever, especially from the vantage point of working at a zoo and being in touch with inspectors and regulatory agencies at the city, state and federal level regarding the care of zoo animals as well as the import and export of zoo animals.
In 2010, my niece, a graduate of UIS’ MPH program, suggested I look into UIS’ online programs. I quickly zeroed in on the MPA program and submitted an application.
During the years that I worked on the MPA, my personal and professional life often seemed to overwhelm my schedule, yet returning to coursework and school projects began to serve as a stabilizing force for any chaos that might be happening in my life. I have been especially proud of three projects:
- My capstone paper on the auction of a permit to trophy hunt a black rhino in Namibia;
- The grant proposal that a classmate and I drafted for a nonprofit for educating canines to assist children with autism; the funder accepted the proposal and the nonprofit received the grant;
- The case study I wrote on the conflict between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Wyoming on the creation of an acceptable wolf management plan in Wyoming.
I am now a proud graduate of UIS’ MPA program, and I thank the professors and my fellow students for all their assistance in this learning process. At age 61, I have achieved the goal of graduate school, and I appreciate how what I have learned serves me now in my job and my life, and will continue to serve me in my retirement plans to volunteer with nonprofits dedicated to the welfare of animals.