Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO
Extracurriculars: Club lacrosse freshman year and varsity lacrosse sophomore year, volunteer at the Memphis Zoo, Summer Fellowship at the Zoo, Conservation Research Internship at the Zoo, Kappa Delta sorority
Growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, instilled a love for nature and wildlife in Alyssa Tews ’16 at a young age. In high school, she began volunteering at an animal hospital and hoped to work with larger animals in college. Alyssa was drawn to Rhodes in part due to its strong partnership with the Memphis Zoo. “I fell in love with the possibility of interning at the zoo, because I knew from the get-go that I wanted to work with animals.”
During her sophomore year, Alyssa joined the elephant behavior project under Dr. Sarah Boyle in the Department of Biology. This student-based team makes observations of elephant behaviors at the Memphis Zoo and records their frequency in an ongoing database, while earning class credit and gaining research experience. She then spent the summer before her junior year as a fellow with the zoo, working with elephants and hippos.
Once junior year began, Alyssa began working in the zoo’s biodiversity research lab with polar bears. “For the polar bears, it was about observing how they dealt with heat stress, because they’re in a very unnatural environment. So, you’re trying to see how the animals are changing their behaviors in captivity,” she explains. Through the research lab, Alyssa used her access to stationary cameras in the polar bear enclosure for outdoor and indoor viewing. She also spent time in the indoor exhibits, where she observed the relationships between the animals and the zookeepers.
This past summer, Alyssa continued her research with the polar bears. However, she added a comparative dimension to her project, and worked with brown bears, panda bears, and black bears as well.
Alyssa’s research experiences have been further supplemented by a course in animal behavior with Professor Boyle. The lab for the course allows students to go over to the zoo and design their own research project, and Alyssa worked with observation data to monitor the cougar behavior.
Her research projects have inspired her to continue her studies of wildlife, as she now plans to attend graduate school and write her thesis on wildlife populations. “I found it very interesting to compare what I was learning in class to what I was seeing with the animals,” says Alyssa. “Now, a lot of my classes have been geared towards wildlife studies. Zoo work has helped guide where I want to go for a career, and shown the possibilities that can come from research.”
She also sees her zoo research as an integral part of her Rhodes experience. “Originally, I was just your everyday bio student. But now, people recognize me from working at the zoo. I’ve made my own little niche,” she explains. “Rhodes allows you to find your own place and be proud of who you are and what you’ve become.”