My First Job: Stephanie Acosta

A person’s first job in their field of choice kickstarts their career and sets the tone for the future. We spoke to recent graduates who make up the CASE community to learn more about what their first experience looked like. This is one in a series we’ve titled My First Job.

Stephanie Acosta said goodbye to her four-legged best friend of over a decade when she was 20 years old.

Despite the pain she felt when she lost her dog, Acosta was grateful.

One thing she remembers vividly from one of the worst times in her life was the compassion the veterinarian showed.

“I was like ‘If I become a veterinarian and I can’t save someone’s pet, I want to make that type of impact,’” Acosta said. “I want to be there for them and support them.”

Stephanie Acosta with animal at the zoo

Acosta, who was a part of Phi Delta Epsilon – a pre-medical fraternity at FIU, spent much of her time around people with the same interests as her. She shadowed a veterinarian at Southeast Veterinary Neurology in Miami. A technician there who once worked at Zoo Miami informed Acosta about an internship opportunity at the zoo. The technician also helped Acosta perfect her application.

She landed the internship right after graduating from FIU in 2019 with a double major in hospitality management and interdisciplinary studies – degrees many would not associate a zookeeper. But for someone with a love for animals, this was a great step in making it into a field of her dreams.

After about two months, Acosta closed the book on her internship and applied for a newly vacant position.

“It’s very, very competitive,” said Acosta who had to go through multiple interviews. With one foot already in the door, Acosta’s degrees, work ethic and network ultimately led her to land a position as a zookeeper.

Acosta with a koala

Working with animals such as tree kangaroos, koalas and wombats in the Australia-themed area of the zoo, Acosta’s daily routine consisted of picking up the animals’ food from the nutrient center, setting up their exhibit area and deep cleaning the animals’ holding areas.

Once that’s done. It’s time for everything else on her plate.

“Most people don’t know this but zookeepers – at least at Zoo Miami – we mow, weed eat, paint, build enrichment items for our animals,” Acosta said. “We do all of that.”

She used the enrichment items to help get the animals to do more of their natural behavior.

Acosta at the zoo a new guinea singing dog

“We put little meat chunks inside paper balls and throw them around. Then the New Guinea singing dogs think ‘OK, now I’ve got to work to get my food.’”

While caring for the animals is a huge part of being a zookeeper, Acosta didn’t realize another important aspect until she started at the zoo – the importance of educating the public on conservation.

“I never would have thought zoos actually care about research. I didn’t understand the outreach,” Acosta said. “We are all animal people, but it’s more than that.”

In fact, one of Acosta’s favorite things to do was talking to guests and educating them about how the animals act as ambassadors of their species. Acosta explains if someone falls in love with an animal they see at the zoo, they are more likely to do something to save that species. It was a job that prepared her for her next role: veterinary school student.

She also had the knowledge needed to get into medicine thanks to a myriad of courses and professors including Thomas Pitzer.

Acosta applied to 13 schools. She was denied by nine and waitlisted by one. Three invited her to interview. Three said yes.

In late April, Acosta said goodbye to all her friends at the zoo, both two and four-legged.

In the fall, she’s headed to Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I’ve experienced a lot and I’ve learned a lot,” said Acosta, who describes her life as blessed. “Even the bad times, the bad things in my life have prepared me for things I didn’t realize.”