By Erin Alvarado
Jody Cassell ’07 believes that everyone can be “wildlife warriors” through simple acts in their everyday lives.
“Don’t think, ‘I’m just one person,’ or, ‘We’re just one home,’ or ‘That’s just one plastic bag.’ Because it really does make a difference,” Cassell says.
Cassell is the director of conservation at Brevard Zoo, where she was first hired as a federal work-study student through Florida Tech.
After she had completed all of her work-study hours, she couldn’t imagine not being at the zoo every day, so she applied for a part-time position while still attending classes on campus. Once she graduated, Cassell was hired full time and has been happily employed there for over 16 years.
The road to Cassell’s dream job did include challenges, though.
While attending Florida Tech, she was torn about what she wanted to do with her psychology degree after graduation. Since the traditional paths didn’t harness her passion for conservation and saving wildlife, then professor Frank Webbe, now an emeritus faculty member, encouraged Cassell to study animal behavior. The advice changed her life, and returning to thank Webbe for his guidance is still one of her most cherished career moments.
“It’s rare that you’re able to connect back with somebody and say, ‘This one moment in time, we had this one conversation, and you’ve actually changed the trajectory of my entire life,’” Cassell says. “The work that I am able to do now, it is actually changing the impact on species in the wild, and he has a large part in that.”
Cassell oversees a team of 16 conservationists who help improve critical habitats for animals within Florida and save species, such as the Florida grasshopper sparrow, from extinction through captive breeding and release. She also manages local rescue and rehabilitation efforts, as well as manatee releases; oversees grants for conservation research projects; restores living shorelines in the Indian River Lagoon; manages volunteers; and educates the public on sustainability efforts taking place at the zoo through programs such as Adopt-A-Mangrove.
“A huge reason why I love my job so much is because no two days are ever the same,” she says. “I keep a bag in the car of ‘dress’ clothes, ‘play’ clothes and ‘lagoon’ clothes.”
The next exciting project on the horizon for Cassell and her team at the zoo is preparation for the Aquarium and Conservation Center, which is slated to break ground in Port Canaveral in 2024. The center will expand Cassell’s conservation and restoration initiatives, as well as engagement with the Central Florida community through immersive experiences.
“So much of the work that I’ve been able to do thus far has been because of the connections that have been made around me. Some of them have been connections that people have made for me, and some of them are ones that I’ve done on my own,” Cassell says. “But it’s a small world—get out there and meet people!”
Looking for ways to help Cassell and her team save animals in the wild? Visit Brevard Zoo! Twenty-five cents of each daily ticket and $5 from each membership purchased go toward one of the zoo’s featured conservation organizations.