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Preparing for a Career in Wildlife Public Policy
Building on her work with Kenyan baboons, Madagascar lemurs, zoo primates, and the wildlife of Texas
March 23, 2022
Melina Nolas VG22 MAPP

A freshman writing course forged a new career path for Melina Nolas VG22 MAPP. A native of Philadelphia, she always liked animals but never imagined herself studying or working with them. In her first semester at Duke University, writing about the evolutionary convergence of chimpanzees and dolphins got her hooked.

She added more anthropology courses to her schedule and joined Duke Roots & Shoots, a club inspired by Jane Goodall, dedicated to primate conservation. By sophomore year, she decided to pursue evolutionary anthropology as her major, and minor in mathematics.

For her work-study program, Melina assisted in a lab, analyzing samples from baboons in Kenya. A professor invited her to spend a summer at a field site in Madagascar studying the effects of climate change on the behavior of ring-tailed lemurs.

“I had never been camping before and lived in a tent in a forest for a month. It was amazing to see lemurs in their natural habitat,” she says.

After graduating, Melina interned at the Great Ape House at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She cared for the orangutans and gorillas with typical keeper duties and conducted research on gestural communication between the two species.

Looking to gain experience with more types of animals, Melina apprenticed and eventually was hired as a full-time animal caretaker at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Texas. She helped injured animals in the rehab hospital before working in the wildlife sanctuary, caring for farm and companion animals, exotic birds, primates and carnivores.

“It was a new angle to what I’d been doing,” she confesses. “I’d mostly been studying about species, now I was actually helping them. It was a transformative experience for me—making an impact on animals’ lives one at a time.”

After two years, she decided she wanted to help animals on a larger scale through public policy. Melina applied to the Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

The intensive MAPP program explores human-animal relationships, policy and community action. She started classes in the fall in the applied track (a research track is also offered).

Part of the draw for her is the program’s broad focus on all types of species. She explained that the core class, “Animals in Society,” is broken into five modules with sections on policy, companion animals, lab animals, farm animals and wildlife.

“A lot of graduate programs are very specific, you pick one species that you study forever,” Melina asserts. “In that class and in others, we’re encouraged to do projects on different animals and think about things outside of your wheelhouse. Policies surrounding dogs are very different from policies surrounding chickens or gorillas.”

Melina appreciates the strong connections she’s developed with her classmates and professors, and their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

For example, after working in a zoo, she liked hearing her peers’ perspectives in the “Wildlife in Captivity” course, including students in the class from other Cummings School programs. “Because it’s a small school, it feels very interconnected,” she contends.

Melina is currently in her spring semester and will complete a summer internship before graduating in August. She plans to find a research position within an organization involved in political advocacy for wildlife species and possibly earn her PhD.

“I’ve been trying different aspects of animal care, research, rehabilitation and fieldwork. Having these varied experiences informs my approach to policy and what I’m learning in the program,” she shares. “The MAPP program is unique, there’s no other program like it.”


Have a passion for understanding human-animal relationships and promoting the status of animals in society?
The MS in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) program application deadline is April 1, 2022, to join the 2022-2023 class.

This unique one-year graduate degree program offers students the opportunity to explore the complex relationships between people and animals, and how those relationships are reflected in our culture, institutions and public policy.

While students enter the program with different interests, skills, philosophies and aspirations, all share a passion for understanding human-animal relationships and promoting the status of animals in society. MAPP graduates successfully pursue careers in policymaking, law enforcement, advocacy, public education, research, animal shelter management and applied animal behavior. MAPP graduates also have outstanding success obtaining advanced training in Ph.D. programs, law and veterinary medicine.

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