Cornell Chapter Alumnus is Living His Dream, Encourages Everyone to Step Out of Their Comfort Zone
When Drew Seery was in elementary school, he wrote a paper about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He had just watched a show on the Discovery Channel about the San Diego Zoo, he said, so he wrote that one day he would work there.
Now, 20 years later, he does.
And he’s become the poster boy for conservation education at the zoo.
“I’ve wanted to do exactly what I’m doing since I was in the fourth grade,” Seery said. “I always dreamed of working at the San Diego Zoo. I just never thought it would actually happen coming from New York.”
Seery was social chair of the Omicron Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha at Cornell University, where he studied natural resources. He went on to get his master’s degree in elementary education at Manhattanville College, also in New York. He thought he’d pursue the more traditional classroom route.
“After graduation, I didn’t really have a plan,” he said.
A small nature center in Upstate New York was looking to hire an educator, so he applied for that and got it. He also did some marine conservation overseas in Fiji.
Then a young woman he had been in marching band with at Cornell sent him the job listing for the position at the San Diego Zoo.
“I had never even been to California. It was so far away,” Seery said. “But I was at a crossroads in my life. I wasn’t tied down. My lease was up. So I thought if I’m going to do this, now’s the time to do it.”
Without expecting much, he applied for the job and to his surprise, landed it.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” he said. “The first thing I remember realizing is this is not just a zoo, it’s a conservation organization that happens to have a zoo.”
It’s one of the largest, most active zoo’s in the world with 100 acres of land and more than 650 species and subspecies.
“I get to hang out with animals all day and teach people who actually want to learn,” he said. “But I love more than anything that every day is different. It keeps me on my toes.”
As an educator, Seery reaches about 500 students every year. He leads private tours for celebrities and Make-A-Wish kids. He’s also responsible for various educational programming in schools, at the zoo and around the world.
In fact, he just started writing his own curriculums. He’s working on one for students in pre-K through second grade about baby elephants.
The zoo has included him in its annual magazine the past couple years. He believes he became the face of conservation education because he truly loves what he does.
“I have a special connection and bond with my students,” he said. “I think they’ve kind of chosen my picture the past two years because I demonstrate what it means to be in environmental education. You can see the passion on my face.”
His dream has gotten even bigger. Now, his goal is to be the director of education at a zoo.
“Right now, at this point in my life, there’s no where I’d rather be than on the ground,” he said. “But in the next 10 years or so, I’d like to progress into management and really shape an education department.”
Seery credits Lambda Chi and being in a fraternity for helping him get to where he is today.
“Lambda Chi gave me a network of people who care. If you need something, there are always brothers in the field who can help you,” he said. “Working with people as social chair started me on this path of dealing with the public and trying to find the best ways to reach people.”
His advice to undergrads and anyone who is chasing their dream is to put the work in first.
“Sure, you have your dream, but still take the opportunities that present themselves,” Seery said. “You never want to hold back and say, ‘Wait, I have to do this or do that first to get to where I want to be.’ If something comes along that piques your interest, take it. You never know where it could lead you.”
He jumped at the opportunity at the San Diego Zoo even though it required him to move all the way across the country, and he’s so glad he did, he said.
“If I didn’t have that courage to step out of my comfort zone, I would never be where I am today. A lot of people that I’ve talked to are just working a job. They’re living for the weekends and vacations. Sure, they make a lot of money, but they hate what they do.
But this — what I’m doing — it’s not a job. It’s a career. I look forward to coming to work every day because I feel like I’m making a difference and there’s really no greater feeling in the world.”