Robert Roozendaal

Hello! My name is Robert Roozendaal and I am recent graduate of CSB/SJU. I have been asked to write a short statement describing my time at CSB/SJU and also my educational and career pursuits outside of St. John’s. First and foremost, I would like to encourage all Psychology students to get to know the Psychology Department staff. These individuals comprise a wealth of varied information and education and their experiences are vast. They are here to support you in your academic endeavors whenever possible so use that to your advantage… I know I did!

While attending St. John’s University, I had the opportunity to earn a degree in Psychology, a minor in French, and equally as important participate in a couple internships which have benefited me greatly. Luckily for me the Psychology Department recognizes the value of internships in a person’s academic career and I was able to earn eight credits for doing what I love.

What do I love… working with animals and specifically marine mammals. During the summer of my sophomore year I participated in an internship with the Minnesota Zoological Gardens’ marine mammal program where I spent the summer working with five Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. I scrubbed buckets, cleaned pools, and sorted through hundreds of pounds of fish every morning. However, the best part was working with some of the most intelligent and fascinating animals in the world.

I continued working with these animals during the next summer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I was hired as a marine mammal aide and due to my knowledge and strong initiative excelled in this position and became an active trainer during public presentations. After shows we would talk with guests who might have questions and a number of them would give me odd looks when I told them that I had a degree in Psychology. They didn’t understand how I used Psychology in working with these animals; this is how I responded.

Training animals relies on the basic principles of psychology. Psychology teaches us to use positive reinforcement when training an animal. Presenting an animal with an appetitive stimulus after some behavior will increase the likelihood of that behavior to occur again. We use the same philosophy with humans. As I continued talking with them I would discuss the use of primary reinforcement and secondary reinforcement describing how using a variety of reinforcers maintained the animal’s interest in us and allowed us to work with the animals in training the behaviors they had seen in the show. I would then educate them on how we used shaping and approximations to get from one step of a behavior to the next until we had the desired behavior and paired it with a discriminative stimulus (hand signal).

After hearing my explanation the guests seemed to leave with a better understanding of training and seemed to be enlightened to the vast uses of Psychology. Psychology is ever present in our world and constantly playing a hidden role. Looking beyond the textbook into the real world allowed me to use Psychology in my every day life and explore its impressive role in our society. I encourage you to do the same.

Both of these internship experiences have allowed me use my education in Psychology to the fullest. At this time, I am working with the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program continuing to use my degree in Psychology. Each and every day is different. The animal’s behavior keeps me on my toes and I can’t get enough of it! Psychology has given me the opportunity to do what I love and I am positive that it can help you too if you take advantage of it! Good luck!