The Advanced Inquiry Program encourages professionals to ignite ecological and social change while earning their master’s degrees.
Overseen by Miami University’s Project Dragonfly, the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) is a one-of-a-kind master’s program that immerses students in collaborative inquiry and action as they champion change. Through web-based coursework from Miami and face-to-face experiential learning and field study at the Missouri Botanical Garden, students connect with classmates, Miami University faculty, Garden experts, and community leaders locally, nationally, and globally.
Applicable, Flexible, Affordable
Jackie Johnson learned about the Advanced Inquiry Program through a colleague. “Pursuing a post-graduate degree had always been a personal and professional goal of mine,” Johnson says. “However, I had apprehensions about going back to school since it had been so long since I had completed my undergraduate studies. I was not sure enrolling in a traditional graduate program was my best option. I had a full-time job and a family. The thought of juggling work, family responsibilities and school was a big concern. I needed a program that was applicable, flexible, and affordable. The AIP met those qualifications.”
Johnson was especially excited about the variety of coursework options available through the AIP. In addition to the online and web+ courses, students have the option of participating in an internship, studying abroad as part of one of the Earth Expedition field courses, or conducting an independent study project. These options give students the ability to customize their coursework based on their needs and interests.
After attending an AIP Information Session hosted at the Garden, Johnson was convinced AIP was the right choice for her. “Hearing current and past students share their experiences about what they learned from the program, how the coursework impacted their professional careers, and the relationships they made with students and leaders across the globe was truly genuine and inspirational.”
A Transformational Opportunity
Johnson was introduced to conservation education shortly after graduating from Saint Louis University with a biology degree. As a John Berry Meachum summer intern in the Education Department at the Saint Louis Zoo, she worked alongside Zoo instructors, learning the role of zoos in wildlife conservation, as well as strategies for teaching and interacting with different audiences.
“Seeing the staff interact and share their passion for conservation with program participants and guests was refreshing,” Johnson explains. “I felt like some of those key concepts I had studied in college were coming to life and clicking for me in a way that had not happened before.” She was inspired to pursue a career in conservation education, joining the Zoo as an instructor and working her way up to her current role as the Assistant Director of Education.
Participating in the AIP was foundational for the next step in Johnson’s career—creating new educational programs for the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, a second world-class zoological park in the St. Louis metropolitan area, scheduled to open in 2027.
“I would describe my experience in the AIP program as a journey of social learning and intellectual growth,” Johnson explains. “Being able to learn with and from so many different students, all sharing their insights and experiences was a valuable and unique experience.”
Johnson found that that the program’s graduate course-level work challenged her prior understanding in some areas and solidified her knowledge in others. “Looking at these topics through the AIP tenets of inquiry, community, and voice revealed how complex these topics can be. Addressing environmental issues takes time, resources, and input from stakeholders on all levels.”
Johnson now feels emboldened to confront the challenges ahead in her career.
“The AIP provided the foundational framework that I used to develop and implement a variety of programs focusing on nature exploration of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, the importance of biodiversity for ecosystem health, data collecting and community-based science, zoo and conservation careers, and invasive species removal. I am more confident leading inquiry-based investigations and continue to increase my knowledge of the native wildlife growing and living in and around WildCare Park. I am more reflective, inclusive, and empathetic, which has made me a stronger leader and advocate for conservation education.”
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