Eli Lonneman holds a feathered friend at the Cincinnati Zoo

Environmental Studies

Eli Lonneman ’21 shares her love of the environment at the Cincinnati Zoo


For Eli Lonneman ’21, a program instructor at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, every day is different. One day, she might be training a chicken. Another day, she might be taking a deep dive into primate classifications. Recently, she was comforting a sobbing 3-year-old who had become overwhelmed in a class.

“I love that it’s different—that is one of the reasons the job appeals to me,” she said. “And I think that I’m able to pivot because I came from a multifaceted educational background where I was already like, ‘OK, we’re gonna be learning about all these different things.’ It made me way more adaptable and able to approach problems with a really great point of view.”

Lonneman, who is from Fort Thomas, Ky., and whose sister Kathryn Lonneman graduated from Bellarmine with a degree in Nursing in 2020, wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in when she arrived at the university. “I was interested in too many things! I took a few early education classes, but I couldn’t see myself in a traditional classroom setting.”

"My Bellarmine education made me way more adaptable and able to approach problems with a really great point of view.”

She had always had a love of the world around her, but it wasn’t until she connected with professors that she realized she could make a career of it. She ended up declaring a major in Environmental Studies.

“I chose Environmental Studies over Environmental Science because I thought that it offered a more holistic approach to learning about the subject,” she said. She also earned minors in Biology and Spanish. “They were things I was passionate about.”

With the help of her advisor, Dr. Kate Bulinski, Lonneman landed an internship in environmental education with the Cincinnati Zoo the summer between her junior and senior years. She returned to the zoo as a camp counselor the summer after she graduated, then worked part-time leading camps and overnight adventures.

This year, she is working full-time at the Cincinnati Zoo through a federal Americorps award that runs through August, leading free educational programs for children from underserved parts of the community. The zoo’s Living Classroom Education Access Fund provides field trips, after-hours programs and virtual programs for schools where at least 50 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Lonneman mainly teaches children in preschool through second grade, sharing the importance of being good stewards of the environment and protecting our home.  

“When I was taking education classes, I liked them, but I couldn't see myself in a more traditional teaching role, like in a school,” she said. “This is perfect because it's a non-traditional way of educating—it’s very dynamic; it’s very hands-on.”

Lonneman hopes to be hired full-time at the zoo after her Americorps stint ends. Regardless, she plans to continue a career in environmental education.

“It's a great marriage of the things that I love—I love animals and the environment, and I also love working with people. Kids are so smart. It's really a privilege to be able to work with them and to watch them grow.”

Lonneman said her involvement in student government and admissions at Bellarmine helped her learn how to advocate for herself and pursue her interests, and she encouraged current students to do the same.

“If you're interested in something, go after it—make it happen. Create opportunities for yourself. You’re your own biggest advocate.” 

Tags: Environmental Studies



Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.