Jeff Sailer graduated from Ball State University in 1996 with a degree in biology. Currently, he serves as President/CEO of the Toledo Zoo in Ohio.  During his tenure, the Zoo has been voted the “Best Zoo in the Country” by USA Today. They have also been voted multiple times for the “Best Zoo Lights Display.” Jeff is passionate about conservation and education and strives to develop accessible programming for all.

Life as a Student

Jeff loved his time at Ball State. Whether it was his classes or time just hanging out on campus, he found that BSU was the right environment to help him thrive. When he entered the biology department, it was relatively small which meant that all students received a lot of personalized interactions with professors and were allowed to start working in the labs even in their freshman year. He greatly appreciated the opportunity to get such amazing hands-on experience in such an early stage of his education.

“The relationships I built with my professors were key to the life I led as a student and have stuck with me throughout my career. Being able to simply go into a professor’s office and chat openly with them was life-changing.”

Specifically, Jeff reminisced on biology classes he took with Dr. Ray Chandler and the mentorship role Dr. Chandler took on. “Dr. Chandler gave us the opportunity to have immersive experiences as part of our education. In the middle of the night once, he had us all put on our wading boots and go out into a forest to witness thousands of frogs breeding. It was the coolest experience.” It was experiences like this that made his time at Ball State unique from other places across the country.

Jeff was also a Whitinger Scholar in the Honors College as a student, so he was involved with many other professors and leaders around campus. “What was so amazing was that so many people truly cared about what I was doing and took an interest in how they could help me be successful.” To him, Ball State was the perfect place to not only launch his career but also to make meaningful friendships that have lasted him a lifetime.

Time at the Zoo

After graduating, Jeff attended graduate school in Florida where he received a master’s degree in Zoology. While pursuing his Ph.D. in the same subject, his dream job opened up at Miami Metro Zoo. He served as the Curator of Birds there for five years. Following that, he became the Director of City Zoos in New York City. This entailed helping to run and manage the Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens Zoos for the Wildlife Conservation Society. After several years there, he realized that living in New York City was not his dream and took an opportunity to become the CEO and Executive Director of the Toledo Zoo in Ohio. He has occupied this position since 2012 and has loved every minute of it.

Jeff stated that networking is what made his career so successful and that he learned how to network at Ball State. The people that he came into contact with as a student helped him get his foot in the door in his field and taught him how to continue to build contacts and connections throughout his career.

Advice for Current Students

“Ball State professors take a true interest in their students and do all sorts of things to improve their future successes. Students just need to facilitate conversations with those that are supporting them to gain access to opportunities that will help them down the road.”

Jeff stated that students need to put in effort to get to know their professors and peers. This will help them learn about and take advantage of opportunities presented to them by their departments and professors. Jeff also stressed that it should be a priority for all students to get involved with the multicultural department to get a broader worldview. “Getting involved in some sort of multicultural initiative or group is so important in our world today and can help students expand their perspectives.”