Summer of elephants for recent Cabrini grad

Love, Kudos, Remembrance is an occasional installment profiling people from the Main Line who stumble into grand loves, stand out to their neighbors and whose memories remain after they’re gone.

While most graduates fret over finding jobs and stress over other related post-college crises this summer, Aileen Shotzberger will spend eight weeks in Thailand volunteering for a cause near and dear to her heart – helping endangered elephants.

The senior portrait of Cabrini Class of 2012 graduate, Aileen Shotzberger. Shotzberger will spend her summer with a volunteer elephant project in Thailand.

“I knew I didn’t want to jump right into sitting behind a desk at a computer, since my major predisposes me that,” Shotzberger, 21, said. “I want to do as much good as I possibly can before I have to worry about a career and finances.”

The Cabrini College graphic design major, who graduated this past weekend, said community service and social justice were high on her list of values.

In addition to getting to work with large animals, a passion she shares with her mother who works as a welfare manager for the Ryers Horse Farm in Pottstown, the nature of the work she’s doing helps indirectly reaffirms her interest in charity being a part of life whether or not it’s a part of her career.

“I’d like to work at a company that does a lot of nonprofit, but this doesn’t necessarily fit into the [graphic] design aspect of things,” Shotzberger said. “I think everyone should do their part to give back.”

Shotzberger’s plans burgeoned after she researched postgraduate plans online in October. She Googled “short term volunteer projects” and came across Global Vision International (GVI), an England-based organization that runs more than 100 volunteer projects worldwide.

The recent graduate knew she wanted to work with animals, and was able to narrow her list down to summer elephant volunteer projects in Africa and Northern Thailand. Although elephants in both regions are endangered, Shotzberger said she chose the project in Thailand after she learned some of the reasons elpehants in that region are endangered, namely the overpopulation that has prevented them from roaming free in the wild.

Shotzberger filled at her application, went through a phone interview and screening process before gaining acceptance to the summer project.

“They wanted to make sure you’re prepared for what the project entails…it’s not a vacation by a longshot,” Shotzberger said.

Although this isn’t her first short term project – Shotzberger returned to the United States May 17 from taking classes on British visual culture in London, U.K., and during her junior year, worked on a project on water and air quality and policy in France and Switzerland – Shotzberger has been using her time home preparing for Thailand.

The eight weeks Shotzberger will spend in Thailand five hours outside of the city of Chiang Mai is the region’s monsoon season, which is still humid.

From sun up to sun down, the Cazenovia, N.Y. native will work with her fellow project members regardless of weather conditions, which is why she is collecting as much necessary weather-related gear as possible.

The project entails heading out to the jungle where privately owned elephants reside, monitoring their social interactions, harvesting elephant grass, making sure they forage properly for the nutrients they need and ensuring the elephants have no injuries, and if they do, they’re taken to the project’s camp to get proper veterinary care.

“We’re working on alternative livelihood projects so [elephants] can be fully wild, and help the people [owners] come up with other ways to possibly use elephants for income without subjecting them to hard physical labor,” Shotzberger said.

Shotzberger said one such way of doing this will be teaching the owners, “mahouts,” how to make reusable paper out of the fiber in elephant feces.

Shotzberger said Cabrini College factored into this decision in that it helped reinforce her community service values through its curriculum, the kind of encouragement she plans on carrying with her in the future.

“I’ve never been out of my comfort zone so to speak, but it’s for a good cause,” Shotzberger added. “The things I’ll learn not necessarily just about the elephants and Thailand, but what I’ll learn about myself will help me grow.”


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