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Kansas Wesleyan University

A third-grade assignment set MiKayla Chiles on her career path. She completed a book report on big cats and has been fascinated by them ever since.

Her path took a small detour. She planned to be a social worker for a while, but her interests led her to the Biology Department at Kansas Wesleyan University.

Chiles was introduced to Kansas Wesleyan through her grandmother Deidra Johannes ’94, a nontraditional student, who double majored in Psychology with a concentration in Addiction Counseling and Criminal Justice. She now works as a counselor for Heartland Regional Alcohol and Drug Assessment Center.

Chiles’ hope is to one day work with tigers. To get closer to that goal, Chiles worked as an intern this past summer at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita. She got the internship through persistence.

“I started researching opportunities and emailing inquiries. I was looking everywhere,” she explained. “After a few emails back and forth, I was offered the position at Sedgwick. I was really surprised that I got an offer from such a large zoo. It was nice that it is so close to home, too.”

While at the zoo, Chiles worked in the education center in the cold room, where she handled animals like geckos, tiger salamanders, big brown bat, rabbits, chickens, prairie dogs and a chinchilla. She also spent time in the American Barn, an area styled after a farm. There she was able to work with different breeds of cattle, horses, donkeys, sheep/goats, pigs, camels, among many other farm animals from Asia, Africa and America. Her favorite in this area was Banshee the mule. She helped with meal prep, cleaning and enrichment.

Though Chiles has learned some basics from her Vertebrate and Invertebrate Zoology courses, handling live animals gave her new appreciation for their individual traits.

“Getting hands-on with the animals was amazing,” she said. “Cilis, the gecko, was so strong. She could really cling to things, like the plastic train we used for her enrichment. Dyson, the chinchilla, was a lot of fun too. He would get really hyper after he had his dust bath. Banshee was a unique creature. She was taller than a normal mule, and you knew when she liked you because she would backup towards you waiting for you to scratch her hindquarters.”

Chiles knows that she is entering a competitive field and is hoping that her internship will help.

“The more experience you have, the better,” she said.

For now, she is busy planning her October wedding and finishing her senior year.

“I am open to whatever comes next,” she said.