Local psychology student working with marine life at SeaWorld

The Lowdown, July 2012


FOREST LAKE —  Katie Koenig has been in the water for as long as she can remember.

The 22-year-old former Forest Lake resident is still essentially living in the water but is no longer in Minnesota. In February she moved to Orlando, Fla. to intern at Discovery Cove, a section of SeaWorld. Since June she’s been employed there as an aquarist.

A day at work for Koenig can range anywhere from feedings, cleaning and maintenance to guest interaction and education.  On the reef side she takes care of fish, stingrays, sharks, eels, lobsters and the like, and also works on the beach with guests, educating them about the animals. On the Sea Venture side she helps lead underwater dive tours, where guests get close-up interactions with animals.

“I meet so many people from all around the world,” she said. “ I love getting to work one-on-one with guests and share the animals with them and teach them about them. It’s like I get the best of both worlds — to have that combined in one job is my dream. I’m pretty much doing my dream job.”

Koenig started competing on her school swim team in Fergus Falls at age 4 and continued swimming year-round until she was 18. She spent her summers at her family cabin in northern Minnesota water skiing, tubing, racing turtles and swimming some more.

She and two friends even taught themselves how to pyramid ski one summer in high school.

“It (the water) was always there,” she said. “I lived in the water growing up. It’s second nature to have a job where I’m in the water, swimming around with fish and rays and water animals all day long.”

As part of her undergraduate degree in psychology from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, she had to complete an internship that allowed her to apply what she had been learning in classes. After a four-month long application and interview process she landed the full-time paid internship at Discovery Cove, where she worked with sea animals in the aquarium, in the bird house and with the dolphins. After completing her spring internship she was accepted as a summer intern but was instead offered a part-time job. She now logs from 32 to more than 40 hours a week in the aquarium, primarily working directly with the animals.

Working at a place like SeaWorld was a longtime dream of Koenig’s. “I went to SeaWorld when I was 7 years old with my family, and I remember thinking ‘I want to be a dolphin trainer,’” she said. “It was when I actually went to the park (on another visit in 2010) that I fell in love with the animals, fell in love with the people, and that I thought that I could actually do this . . . and I wanted to go for it.”

When she began searching for internships to meet her college requirements, she decided to check with the U.S. theme park chain. “I believed in everything that they stood for and what they did there,” she said. “So just on a whim I went and looked at their Website under careers, and I saw that they offered internships for college students in animal training. They wanted either psychology, biology or zoological majors, and I was psychology so it fit perfectly.”

She said she’s able to use psychology principles every day as she interacts with the animals through conditioning, application of terms and reinforcement schemes.

Though she grew up in Fergus Falls, her family now resides in Forest Lake. Her father, Jim Koenig, is a dentist for the state, working primarily out of Lino Lakes and Stillwater, and her mother, Deb Koenig, is a lifeguard and substitute teacher in the greater Forest Lake area. Koenig lived with her family in Forest Lake for two years while she completed undergraduate work at Metro State.

Her three brothers and younger sister also live at home in Forest Lake. Her older sister and brother-in-law, and much of her extended family, live in the Twin Cities area.

Though she misses family and friends, she said this is a good time in her life to do something different and experience new things. Now that she is settled in her new environment, she sees herself staying in Florida for quite a while. “I love that it’s great weather all the time,” she said. “I definitely would say my job is my favorite part of Florida. There’s not a whole lot that I don’t like about Florida.”

See original article here.