Jovani Encarnacion, 14, wants to be a zoologist but he's not waiting until college to start studying.
To jump start his future career, he's joined Van Buren Middle School's new Tampa Bay 4 Teens STEM Club, which is sponsored by Lowry Park Zoo.
Since November, Encarnacion and several other students have worked closely with Lowry instructors to build a flower garden on school grounds and improve signage at the zoo for its recently renovated Florida Aviary.
Students learn how to protect Florida's endangered wildlife and the effect people have on the environment. Activities include field trips to the zoo, the Florida Aquarium, and local waterways.
So far, the club is a hit with Jovani.
"All these activities are really fun," he said.
Classmate Angelo Rivas, 14, agreed.
"It's awesome," he said. "I get to help other people understand nature and protect the environment."
The program was purposely designed around activities that required teamwork to keep students engaged, said instructor Emily Ducey.
"We try to make it as interactive and hands-on as possible," she said. "It's fun and enhances the learning."
Students' participation in the club will be a bonus for them because the skills and knowledge students learn there will transfer to the classroom, said science teacher David Seis.
"It will show up later in the year," he said.
AT&T recently donated $25,000 to the club, which is part of the company's signature philanthropic initiative, AT&T Aspire, which drives innovation in education to promote student success in school and beyond.
Since 2008, AT&T has donated $400 million through the initiative.
The company is focused on reducing the high school dropout rate and supports programs that are similarly aligned, AT&T regional director Ed Narain said.
Additionally, initiatives like the STEM club offer students like Jovani and Angelo an introduction to science and technology careers, he said.
"When you think of jobs of the future … those jobs are in STEM fields," Narain said.
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected].