Teen Intern Alum Shares Experiences with Youth Programs

By New England Aquarium on Friday, March 03, 2023

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Pinniped and penguin trainer Tommy DeMarco at his first meet and greet as a child.

For teens who love nature, the ocean, and animals, the New England Aquarium offers a variety of opportunities for teens—paid and unpaid—to build useful career skills, learn about climate change and ways they can engage their community in solutions to some of the biggest challenges our ocean faces, all while having fun with peers. These programs are made possible with funding from the Mass Cultural Council.

For New England Aquarium pinniped and penguin trainer Tommy DeMarco, a teen internship program alum, these experiences with aquarium youth programs changed his life. When he was 11 years old, DeMarco attended a meet and greet with seals at the Aquarium, and at that moment, he knew he wanted to work in the Marine Mammal Department. Here, DeMarco talks about what he learned and how his experiences in the Aquarium’s youth development programs helped him choose his career path.

Tell me about the programs you were in and what you learned.

I was a high school sophomore when I learned about the Harbor Discoveries Camp. It was the very last year to do it. So, I went on a schooner for a week. We did one week of prep time in the classroom with learning and field trips before getting on the boat. It was amazing, we saw humpback whales and basking sharks, and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary was extraordinary. It furthered my interest in marine biology. After that, I started as a teen intern because I had heard about that through the camp. As an intern, I began in visitor education during the summer and loved it; then, I did an academic year. During the school year, one weekend day a week, I’d come in and work in visitor education. The following summer, around 2016, I joined the Marine Mammals Department as a teen intern, a life-long dream. I also completed a winter internship with the Marine Mammals department during college because I couldn’t get enough of the seals since I formed such strong attachments with them. After that, a part-time position opened up in the Marine Mammal department. I went for it, not thinking I would get it, but I did.

What did you like most about the teen internship program?

It built a sense of confidence in me at such a young age. When you’re young, you usually hang out with your friends and do things like that. But, I felt like I was doing my dream job at 15. And my first job was at the Aquarium, so it was one of those things where you feel so fortunate and grateful. I was always wanted to work in the Aquarium, but I didn’t know what role, and it solidified that I wanted to be in animal care and that I wanted to inspire the public every single day. The program helped surround me with a ton of great role models. I’ve been in various roles at the Aquarium now on and off for almost 10 years.

Which youth development program was your favorite?

All of them had different roles in my growth here. But the teen internship program, hands down, was the role in which I was given the most responsibility.

Now that you’ve been working with penguins for a while, do you have a couple you’re particularly close to?

I have a few favorites. There’s Brenton, and she’s four years old, so she’s a younger penguin. But she’s fantastic. We all work together as a team, but we have certain animals we work on our triangles with, and she’s one of mine, and she’s just super great. And I’m building a relationship with her. And then Beach Donkey, of course. They all have unique personalities, but those two shine brightest for me.

What practical skills did you learn in these programs?

Definitely public speaking. Also, I gained confidence through interacting with the public in a customer service role, Animal Care skills that I still use daily, and general time management.

When you’re leading a tour, how do you make it exciting or different?

When we did the behind-the-scenes tours with marine mammals, a big part of it was bringing them out for enrichment. Everyone wants to be right there with the animals; they are such excellent ambassadors. So, I always made sure that even though it wasn’t a meet and greet, I wanted to still make sure they got out on exhibit and that people got to see them. And when I do my talks to this day, I ensure a personal connection. I introduce the penguins by name and share fun facts about them and their personalities. Knowing them on an individual level helps inspire people.

The teen internship programs are made possible by generous funders like the Mass Cultural Council.




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