Junior Zoey Womick brings life to the St. Louis Zoo through the ALIVE Program


Courtesy of Zoey Womick

Working with a team of volunteers, junior Zoey Womick prepares to weigh and measure a painted turtle. Womick participated in an investigatory trip on painted turtles with other teens from St. Louis, all members of the Zoo ALIVE program. “I learned so much on the trip, but the coolest thing I learned is that the sex of a baby turtle is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated,” Womick said.

Most St. Louis natives go to the St. Louis Zoo once or twice and call it a day. But junior Zoey Womick spent her summers there for the past nine years. After aging out of the youth camps sponsored by the zoo, Womick was inspired to become a volunteer through the Zoo ALIVE program.

“I decided to do this because it gives me the chance to educate people about conservation and animals and have some other really cool opportunities,” Womick said. “Part of our goal is to foster wondrous experiences for the visitors with the animals, which contrived a connection between them and makes people more conservation-minded.”

Womick volunteered by helping introduce a waste-reduction program to the zoo and assisting in animal conservation efforts. 

“Some of the events I take part in include helping out at Stingray Cove [and] working with the Partula snail, which is an endangered species of snail native to Missouri. I’ve helped with #byetobags, the zoo’s program that has people pledge to use reusable bags,” Womick said. 

During her time as a Zoo ALIVE volunteer, Womick was scouted to travel to Anoka County, Minnesota to volunteer with Dr. Daniel Warren, a Saint Louis University (SLU) associate biology professor conducting research on painted turtles

“[Getting selected] was completely random, but I was super excited even though I didn’t know what I was getting into. Part of my excitement came from realizing I had the opportunity to learn things, even though I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I love animals and knew I’d be in contact with them. We got the opportunity to help him and his lab with their research and turtle physiology, which was amazing,” Womick said. 

By taking part in the turtle experiment, Womick entered into another experiment. Her experiment leader, Dr. Warren, is tracking the two groups of zoo ALIVE volunteers to measure the impact of hands-on research on a student’s likelihood to go into a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields. 

“What’s super cool about this other than getting a hands-on research experience in the field and lab is that he is experimenting on us. He wants to see if we will go into a STEM career with this experience more than the control group, who are the other zoo ALIVE volunteers. He’ll give us annual surveys to see if we prefer STEM or not. At this point, it definitely has me seriously considering going into STEM,” Womick said. 

Womick hopes to continue working with the St. Louis Zoo with the goal of becoming an official zoo assistant. This gives her the opportunity to go on conservation missions and international trips, as well as have a more tangible impact on the zoo. 

“In the future, I hope to make a difference in conservation and bring more zoo visitors into our efforts,” Womick said. “If I could do what I’m doing with the zoo everyday for a living, I would do it in a heartbeat.”