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Department of Communications/
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22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 874-7892

Passion for animals earns student
environmental scholarship to URI

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 24, 2003 -- Providence resident Sonny Polanco turned his passion for animals and a job at Roger Williams Park Zoo into a full scholarship to the University of Rhode Island. Next he hopes to turn his college education into a job working with wildlife.

"When I was a kid I used to watch the Discovery Channel all the time with my cousin," said the 21-year-old sophomore. "During my senior year in high school I had a chance to work at the zoo, and that really helped me make up my mind about what I wanted to do with my life."

At the zoo he worked with the zookeepers to feed the animals, clean cages, and do other assignments. He worked primarily with the large mammals like polar bears, black bears, snow leopards, and camels, and that close-up interaction further developed his interest in animals. He was even on site at the zoo when the polar bear gave birth.

Although Polanco was an accounting major during his freshman year at URI, he changed majors to wildlife biology last fall, which qualified him for a full-tuition scholarship offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Multicultural Scholars Program. Designed to encourage under-represented students to study environmental, food and agricultural sciences, Polanco earned the scholarship based on academic achievement, letters of recommendation, personal interviews, and evidence of interest and commitment to studying the required subject areas. Now in its third year, the Multicultural Scholars Program supports 10 students at URI.

Polanco, who ran track at Mt. Pleasant High School, looks forward to a future career working with animals. Asked whether he wants to work at a zoo, as a researcher, or in some other capacity, he said, "I’m open to working with any kind of animals in any capacity. As long as it has to do with animals, I’m into it!"

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