November 18, 2016 | 2 p.m.
By Ava Bergen, alumni communications
Grant Spickelmier ’95 began his career in education by dressing up in a full-body mosquito costume and buzzing around the Minnesota Zoo. "It was a blast,” he says. “Interacting with the people and seeing their reactions, seeing them learn was so rewarding. That’s when I think I knew teaching was a natural fit for me.” Spickelmier’s other incarnations that year included a monarch butterfly, a bee, and a ladybug as he worked as an intern with Theatre in the Wild, a program partnering with the zoo to both entertain and educate visitors.
Spickelmier has been working in environmental education for over 20 years now, currently serving as the education curator at the Oregon Zoo. In this role, Spickelmier directs and manages the zoo’s numerous educational programs: from kids summer camps, to school trips, to the Senior Zoomobile—a traveling bus of volunteers that brings rabbits and a “traveling duck” to Alzheimer’s clinics and senior centers. “We find that the tactile experience of touching an animal can bring up powerful memories,” says Spickelmier. “We’ve had people who haven’t spoken in a long time just burst into song.”
Spickelmier’s typical workday continually changes. Currently, he’s working on projects with the Oregon Zoo’s new education center featuring an insect zoo, classrooms, and action center.
“The zoo world is wild and crazy and lots of fun. In a zoo you have to be ready to do anything at any time. One moment I’ll be trying to raise a million dollars for the new education center and the next minute I’ll be writing text for a graphic of the Warren’s girdled lizard,” says Spickelmier, laughing.
Originally a pre-med major at Bethel, Spickelmier explains that one ecology course taught by then Associate Professor of Biology Bob Kistler – who now works as an Instructional Technologist – altered his plans by widening his values and perspective. “Kistler opened my eyes to the idea that caring for the environment is just as important as caring for individual people,” Spickelmier says.
Throughout the remainder of his time at Bethel, Spickelmier recognized his vocation as an educator and steward of creation, and he eventually graduated with a double major in biology and life science education. “Bethel is a special place, teaching critical thinking about potentially dividing issues, with the value that you can serve God through whatever work you do,” he says.
In his role with the Oregon Zoo, Spickelmier seeks to synthesize his theology and his profession, serving God through his actions. “The more I learn, the more I believe God created this Earth and humans to be in relationship,” says Spickelmier. “We rely on the processes of the natural world to live, and when that’s disrupted people are negatively impacted.” Spickelmier’s professors’ impressions of him reflect this interconnected perspective. Kistler comments, “I remember Grant as a dedicated, inquisitive, self-motivated learner with a lot of passion for making the world a better place for all, including animals.”
Spickelmier believes environmental education can help make a difference in how we perceive and treat our world, and strives to be an example. “It’s given me the confidence to be a witness in my work,” he says. “I’m hoping that I challenge stereotypes that some people in the environmental movement have about Christianity.”
Over the course of his career, Spickelmier has also had the opportunity to work with critically endangered species, including the Mexican wolf and Amur leopard. “When you work with these animals, the importance of environmental education really starts to sink in,” he says. “We’re helping to save these species, but we’re also trying to educate how our own traces helped create this situation where many of our world’s animals are in trouble. We want to educate how we can take action to help.”
Spickelmier and his wife, Jen, ’94 live in Portland, Oregon. He still has his mosquito mask, but doesn’t wear it quite as often.