Press Releases

November 5, 2004

Southampton College Junior Valerie Ruggeri Readies for Life with Walruses, Whales
Prospect Park, Penn. Native Spends Summer at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Co-operative Education Experience

Amanda Olsen (

Southampton, NY –Southampton College junior Valerie Ruggeri spent last summer feeding walruses and playing fetch with beluga whales as part of her co-operative education experience at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., something most twenty-year-olds only dream about.

“We had much bigger objects to throw,” said Ruggeri. One of the things that attracted her to Southampton College was its integrated experiential learning opportunities. “For my field, experience is a must. Part of the reason I came here was because of the great co-op program.”

Point Defiance offered a truly unique opportunity for the psychology/biology major. She was able to work directly with animals in their enclosures, feeding and enriching and even training them. She interacted with a diverse group of animals, including harbor seals, Magellenic penguins, tufted puffins, arctic foxes, polar bears and sea otters.

 “With the contacts I’ve made and the experience I’ve gained I am ready for a job in the field, definitely.” Ruggeri said.

Traveling across the country to live in a place where she knew no one was a difficult choice for Ruggeri. Self-described as shy and unadventurous, she pushed her limits by participating in both the co-op and SEAmester during her time at the College.

SEAmester, where students spend nine weeks at sea in a traditional schooner, was another defining moment in Ruggeri’s college experience: “It changed me, physically and mentally.” She credits her SEAmester experience with giving her the ability to take on the challenge of the Point Defiance co-op.

SEAmester is more than a casual experience at sea.  It is a challenging adventure where students not only study the ocean environment, they live it.  On board the ship, students take responsibility for crewing the schooner, standing deck watch, manning the helm and setting the acre of sail.  At the same time they take a full semester’s workload, everything from navigation and seamanship to Melville and Hemingway.  The curriculum includes courses in maritime history, marine science, coastal ecology, and literature of the sea.

Ruggeri is energized by her future prospects. “I’m twenty years old, and I’ve already sailed up the East Coast and traveled across the country to pursue my dream. This experience allowed me to make the transition from being fearful to being confident. I will always be grateful for that opportunity.”

 These one-of-a-kind opportunities were made possible through the office of Cooperative Education and Internships and the SEAmester program of Southampton College of Long Island University.  Southampton College’s undergraduate programs are relocating to Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus.