POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) – The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium announced a new scholarship program to increase minority representation in the zoo field.

The Respect, Include, Succeed and Educate scholarship program will provide internship opportunities to students of a variety of backgrounds, including racial and ethnic groups, gender and low-income populations underrepresented in the industry. According to a study by Zippia, 74.1% of zookeepers are white while 16.3% are Hispanic or Latino and 4.0% are Black.

“We are excited to launch this new program right here in central Ohio,” said Tom Schmid, President and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, in a release. “These internships will provide valuable exposure, and we hope spark interest in careers in animal care, conservation education, and related fields. Students will have the opportunity to learn from and work with our talented staff. The end goal is to inspire these students to join the zoological profession and better reflect the communities we serve.”

Starting this fall, there will be 15 RISE scholarships available dedicated to various positions across the Columbus Zoo, The Wilds, Zoombezi Bay and Safari Golf Club.

Each recipient will receive a $5,000 scholarship to offset expenses or be paid hourly up to $5,000 through the scholarship fund. Students must commit to 12 weeks in animal care internship positions or 240 hours of work in other non-animal areas from September through December. 

The zoo said the goal is to remove financial barriers that may be caused by unpaid internships.

“To create access you have to identify barriers and then remove those barriers to create opportunities that are equitable,” said Carman Wirtz, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, in the release. “Our family of parks are for everyone and educational opportunities should be no exception.”

Students must be 18 years of age and complete the application by Aug. 12. Scholarship information, application and internship descriptions can be found here.