Hugh Le's Internship Spotlight

November 11, 2022 Steven Holman

Hugh Lê a student of the University of Maryland, College Park and the Institute of Applied Agriculture. He is majoring in Animal Care and Management and Agriculture Business Management. He not only has a passion for animals and their care but for the managerial aspect of running these types of endeavors, which made him the perfect candidate for working at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and was part of the Diversity in Stem pilot program.  

Starting in May and working all the way to August Mr. Lê got to work developing and understanding the inner workings and routines of the national zoo. Under the guidance and leadership of Kenton Kerns and Chelia Chong he got started working in the small mammal house and very quickly began to learn from the hands-on work what it really took to keep the enclosures and zoo running. This routine while working at the small mammal house consisted of meal prep for the animals for their specific diets, feeding the animals at regular intervals to maintain that diet, and consistent near-clockwork routines to keep the animals happy and engaged in the exhibitions.  As well as the laborious cleaning of the exhibits and holding pens, which is a constant job and important job for the animals that inhabit the zoo and is vital to the safety and health of the exotic animals housed in the zoo facilities.

But the odd jobs around the zoo didn't stop there at the small mammal house. While at the zoo Mr. Lê got to work with and handle some of the hundreds of exotic animals at the zoo he was allowed the opportunity to conduct a research project for the Smithsonian. This project focused on the relationship between heat-basking lamps and the behavior of Procavia capensis. This project took 5 weeks to set up and observations of the research project happened every day to watch and collect data for and provided new information for how the exhibits should implement these lamps and what behaviors and changes were found and how it relates to previously known information of the animal's life. When asked if this research opportunity impacted Mr. Lê his manager Kenton Kerns said “It was great to watch [him] grow during the internship because initially, he seemed unsure about the project  but after sessions with the mentorship staff he was able to solidify [his] research and move forward with the project with confidence.”

After his initial training and while the summer season ramped up in work Mr. Lê was given the opportunity to show leadership skills and develop them further. Helping to train the recently joined middle of the summer interns allowed him to not only get to experience what it was like to work on zoo grounds as a worker, and research as a Smithsonian researcher but now lead and manage like a manager inside of the Smithsonian system. With this, he was able to get a very well-rounded internship as it challenged him mentally, physically, and managerially all while learning more about the different areas a career here could bring. 

During the summer of 2022, Mr. Lê was able to experience what very few individuals get to, as he worked behind the scenes at the Smithsonian zoo where he got unique opportunities to show and reinforce his abilities to conduct research and build upon his leadership skills. All while showing to the staff and himself that he was able to fulfill daily duties necessary for the smooth operation of the zoo while conducting active research leading to new information about Procavia capensis, and when asked about his biggest takeaway from this summer Mr. Lê said “I got a chance to challenge myself and see where this field of work could take me.