DOYLESTOWN >> Laura Soder, a 2011 Delaware Valley University conservation and wildlife management alumna, is working with live bald eagles that visit Philadelphia Eagles games as animal ambassadors.
Animal ambassadors are taken to public events and used to teach people about wildlife and conservation.
Soder, 30, a Warrington, Bucks County resident, is the manager of ambassador animal engagement for the Elmwood Park Zoo.
“I oversee the training of our ambassador collection, and work directly with our mascot animals,” said Soder. “I am also in charge of developing and leading our Eco-Family Programs, focused on local conservation and citizen science.”
She said the university’s small classes and her relationships with faculty helped her find her career path.
“I enjoyed the fact that the class sizes were small enough to get to know most people, and allowed for a lot more face time with professors if needed,” said Soder.
Through her classes, she found a mentor in Reg Hoyt, chair of the Department of Animal Biotechnology and Conservation. Hoyt helped and encouraged Soder by sharing job openings within the field.
She said the labs and hands-on experiences she had as a student fueled her interest and passion for the natural world, conservation and working outdoors.
Soder joined Elmwood Park Zoo in 2017 and quickly took an interest in training.
“Because our animals are handled frequently and are a crucial part of our educational programming, I started looking into ways to make the lessons more dynamic by allowing the animal to show its adaptations and natural behaviors rather than just me telling students about them,” said Soder.
In 2019, she was given an opportunity to focus directly on building the zoo’s training program. She now oversees all animal training in the education department.
Her role with the zoo has allowed her to work with a variety of animal ambassadors. Like the teams they support, the birds have their own stories and personalities. Reggie’s story is one of her favorites.
Reggie, a bald eagle that has appeared at Philadelphia Eagles games, has what Soder calls the “epitome of a good underdog story.”
Reggie was hit by a vehicle and an injury to his wing kept him from being able to be released into the wild. So he arrived at Elmwood Park Zoo. He's now excelling in his role as an animal ambassador there.
Soder is currently Reggie’s primary trainer. He has done several Eagles training camp sessions as well as a game in the preseason. He went to his first regular-season game in fall 2019 and will attend another in December. Soder has also started working with Noah, the zoo’s other ambassador eagle, who has been going to Philadelphia Eagles events for the past six years.
As someone who has found a career she truly loves, Soder said she would encourage people to get out and try different options.
“When trying to figure out your career path, take time to explore,” said Soder. “Do internships, job shadowing, reach out to those currently working the jobs you are interested in. Sometimes a path you may think is for you ends up missing the mark, and sometimes you may end up somewhere completely unexpected.”