Volunteering a full-time joy

You know passion is involved when you’re willing to volunteer dozens of hours a week shoveling animal waste and slicing up fruit.

Olstad stands with her hands on her hips in a grass yard with a tree in the background.
Kathryn Olstad stands in the Bear Center’s exercise yard, ready to hide food around for the bears to find.

It’s even more obvious when you would choose to devote more time to bear care if your schedule allowed.

That’s how Kathryn Olstad feels about being a student volunteer at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center.

“It doesn’t feel like working,” said the Gig Harbor, Wash. Native. “Being around the bears is my happy place. I love seeing how much happier they are because of what we do for them.”

Olstad spent between five and seven days a week this summer at the center. She did feedings, cleaned up runs, set up enrichment items, and worked on a behavioral research project with a WSU graduate student.

“I learned so much this summer,” said the WSU senior wildlife ecology major. “The research we’re doing here is necessary to help wild bears survive in a changing climate.”

Olstad said she’s wanted to work with animals for as long as she can remember, and her main career goal is to do rehabilitation work for wildlife. She sees this summer of countless unpaid hours as an investment in her future.

“Besides being happy working with the bears, the work I did this summer will be fantastic experience when I’m looking for a real job,” Olstad said. “I’m developing a skill set with a wide variety of applications. It’s pretty great.”

Even though she’s volunteering on research projects now, she hopes to work with animals in the wild upon graduation.

“There’s not a lot of things untouched by humans at this point,” Olstad said. “Wildlife is so pure. They’re just trying to survive and overcome their situations. If I can help make that easier, or more natural, for them, that’s all I could ever ask for a career.”

She said she chose WSU in part because of the Bear Center. Or at least, hands-on research opportunities like those available at the Center. She wanted more than to learn from reading a book or listening to lectures.