Working with bears highlight of time at WSU

It’s all about loving animals and wanting to make sure they’re properly cared for.

Stotts looks up and steadies a rope tied to an PVC pipe inside a bear run.
Amber Stotts helps set up enrichment program items for the WSU bears as a volunteer at the WSU Bear Center.

That’s what drives WSU senior Amber Stotts in her career goal of working at a zoo or animal sanctuary.

“I’ve always wanted to work with animals,” said Stotts, who is minoring in zoology and majoring in anthropology.

The Manhattan, Kansas native plans to graduate in December 2020.

Since the fall of 2015, she has volunteered at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center. In her three years, she’s done it all, from cleaning pens to making enrichment puzzles that the bears use.

“I love watching them interact with their toys, especially when it’s something I helped put together,” Stotts said. “Watching them figure out how they work and get their reward is really cool.”

Stotts, who heard about volunteer opportunities from her academic advisor, has appreciated the opportunity to add several years of professional experience. But her time commitment goes beyond just a few lines on a resume.

“What we’re doing is really important for the bears,” she said. “The enrichment program keeps their minds and bodies stimulated, which is vital.”

This summer, Stotts volunteered on weekends and hopes to continue helping through the fall semester whenever she can.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the bears’ personalities,” she said. “John and Frank (the two adults males at the Center) are so relaxed about everything. Willow (one of the female cubs) acts like princess. I’ve gotten to know them and how they’ll react to certain situations or new enrichment items.”

Stotts isn’t sure where she’ll be after graduation, but appreciates the opportunity to learn and gain hands-on experience at the center.