Burr Ridge couple donates $1.5 million for conservations scholars program

A Burr Ridge couple has donated $1.5 million to establish the King Conservation Science Scholars program at Brookfield Zoo and other area organizations.

Emmy and Robert King contributed funds for the program, which will prepare 120 Chicago area high school students of diverse backgrounds to tackle major environmental and technological issues facing the Chicago area and the nation.

“We are so proud to be collaborating with the Chicago Zoological Society in this effort. It epitomizes our philanthropic mission,” the couple said in a statement.

The program will provide subject specific training, opportunities for research and community service projects. It is designed to prepare students for college and equip them to solve environmental challenges of the future.

To launch the program, the zoological society is joining with several area organizations, including the Eden Place Nature Center, Forest Preserves of Cook County, the Urban League, Academy for Urban School Leadership, Rasmussen College and Benedictine University.

Students accepted into the program must complete at least 120 hours per year of noncredit classes offered at the zoo and other locations in both science and career readiness.

Foundation courses for first-year students are on conservation concepts, basic inquiry training, educational communications, team building, customer service and diversity/harassment training.

The following year, students may choose such additional courses as animal behavior, climate change, conservation psychology and exhibit interpretation. Practical classes also are offered on resume writing, mock interviews, college and major selection and financial aid.

In addition, students will have the opportunity to serve as a zoo interpreter, or work on such projects as creating a wetland area in an urban nature preserve, developing a program on climate change in Spanish, or planting a pollinator garden.

Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the zoological society, said the organization greatly appreciates the Kings’ gift.

“Our mission is creating conservation leaders by connecting people with wildlife and nature,” Strahl said in a statement. “We believe it is critically important that informal science organizations like ours be proactive in providing out-of-school, zoo-based and community-based programs.”

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