Westmont Downtown and the Santa Barbara Zoo collaborate for community challenge

Views 14 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 27 - 2019 | By: Rebekah Beeghly


Westmont Downtown students pitched business proposals last week to the Santa Barbara Zoo with the goal of finding a plan to better engage 18-28 year olds at the zoo.

Every semester, students in the Westmont Downtown program participate in a community challenge. The students are split into cohorts, given a problem, left to brainstorm a solution, and then pitch their proposed ideas. This semester, the community challenge was with the Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoo’s Chief Operating Officer, Aaron Marshall, asked students to help figure out a way to get 18-28 year olds more involved at the Zoo and aware of its mission and conservation efforts—moving them from visitors to supporters to advocates.

Students were given two weeks to work with their team to try to come up with a creative, cost-efficient, and sustainable solution. Then, last Wednesday, a board of employees from the zoo came to the Westmont Downtown building to hear the pitches, judge the solutions, and select one of the pitched plans to implement at the zoo.

The students came up with many ideas. One group pitched a “golden sticker” idea, where local artists could design SB Zoo stickers to be given out at local coffee shops. Students could get a sticker for their water bottle or laptop, but with a twist. Certain stickers would be “golden stickers” that offer special prizes and discounts—like free admission to the zoo or free giraffe feeding. Other groups proposed things like a lecture series at the zoo with an array of speakers and experts or a food truck event where the community can come get food from local vendors and learn about conservation efforts while they eat.

After completing the project and reflecting on what she learned, senior Maria Alvarez says, “I appreciated being able to apply what I learned from class readings and discussions about business planning and management and innovation into a tangible scenario that could be implemented into the zoo’s infrastructure to bring in more 18 to 28 year olds.” Alvarez was on the team that proposed the lecture series, along with Liam Whitfield, Gabe Grabowski, and Madelyn Olaerts.

The winning proposal was an idea called CUE. CUE stands for the College and University Engagement Program, a program that would involve an educational partnership between the zoo and different college classes. Classes would come visit the zoo and learn about its conservation efforts as part of its curriculum, getting a chance to get a first hand look at a tangible example of conservation and care for the local environment and habitat. This on-site visit would be followed with an opportunity for students to purchase a highly discounted six-month zoo membership and a chance to share that deal with a friend.

The winning cohort is very excited, humbled, and encouraged by the zoo’s interest in the plan. They say they “gained a greater appreciation for the Santa Barbara Zoo through their research and hope others get a chance to see the good work they are doing as well.” Jenna Skiff and Nick Choi, two members from the winning cohort, will meet with the zoo next week to discuss and figure out an action plan to implement CUE at the zoo.


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