Olivia Coppin’s unexpected journey into wildlife conservation

24 May 2024
Opening up a world of opportunity
From a young age, Olivia Coppin dreamed of working with animals. When she found the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Taronga Wildlife Conservation) at the University of Sydney, she realised her dreams could become a reality.
Olivia Coppin at Taronga Zoo

Olivia Coppin at Taronga Zoo

Olivia Coppin is a proud Yuin woman from New South Wales who grew up in regional Northern Queensland. Growing up in a family where less than five people had ever been to university, Olivia never imagined she would find herself living in Sydney, studying wildlife conservation, and working as a Student Ambassador at Australia’s oldest university.

“I started to envision myself doing a degree in year 11 but didn’t know if the University of Sydney was within reach,” she admits, “but my family always encouraged me. I worked incredibly hard through Year 11 and even harder in Year 12.”

Olivia began searching for degrees that sparked her interest. “I came across the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Taronga Wildlife Conservation) on the University of Sydney’s website, and something just clicked,” she remembers. “I didn’t know it was possible to get a degree from both a top university and a conservation organisation, and I instantly knew it was where I was meant to be.”

After receiving her offer to study, Olivia packed up and moved to Sydney, ready to take on any opportunities that awaited her.

“Studying at Taronga has been a dream,” she says. “The staff are incredible, and the facilities are what every biology nerd dreams of. Of course, getting to be at Taronga and being surrounded by species from across the globe is mind-blowing. But I think the part I enjoy the most is the spectacular sunsets from the Zoo.”

Studying at Taronga has been a dream.
Olivia Coppin
Olivia Coppin at the zoo, looking at giraffes
Olivia Coppin at Taronga Zoo with kangaroos

Growing through education and collaboration

The Taronga Wildlife Conservation degree sees students study at both Taronga Zoo and the University of Sydney. The structure means students like Olivia engage not only in areas like biology, ecology and conservation, but also develop skills in project management, stakeholder engagement and critical decision-making.

“I have come so far from the assignments I was handing in for my school’s English head of department, that surely made him stare and wonder if the word ‘grammar’ was even in my vocabulary,” she jokes.

Olivia also reflects on the value she’s found in working with others – something she says both the University and Taronga have encouraged wholeheartedly.

"Every skill I have learnt comes back to the need to work with others,” she says. “This is something Taronga has done spectacularly, encouraging the degree cohort to interact with one another as well as meet students outside of our degree." 

Olivia Coppin working at a stall

Olivia working as a student ambassador at the Gadigal Centre stall for the 2024 Welcome Program, alongside colleagues Mia and Charlie, Gadical Centre Director Jane Stanley and her dog Marlee.

Experiences beyond the classroom

Outside of her studies, Olivia keeps busy working as a Student Ambassador for the University. This sees her working at events like Open Day, campus tours, speaker nights, school visits, residential programs and more.

"Personally, I find that I get the most out of and can give the most back when working with the residential programs,” she says. “These are programs that the University runs where prospective students in high school can stay near the campus as a group and engage in a plethora of activities run by the staff and ambassadors on shift. It allows students to get a taste of the University experience and engage with students across Australia and NSW, something many students have never had the chance to.”

As an Aboriginal student, Olivia is also heavily involved with various programs like the Gadigal Centre and the Mentoring Our Brothers and Sisters (MOBS) Program, where she supports and guides a group of first-year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

“I attend as many events as possible, such as the AIATSIS Family Tracing Program in Canberra in 2023, working the Winter Indigenous Residential Program (Tahgara), movie nights, weaving sessions, Community Lunches and more,” she says.

“I am also a tutor for the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme at the University, alongside working at The Settlement, an Indigenous-focused after-school and holiday program centre that was founded by students at Sydney more than 100 years ago.”

A future filled with exploration

When it comes to life after university, Olivia is open to exploring anything that comes her way.

“The field I am studying in is so expansive that it is a matter of just exploring opportunities, asking questions, and saying ‘yes’ whenever possible and seeing what doors may open,” she says. “I am deeply interested in Indigenous management of Country and will constantly push the usage, and proper accreditation of Indigenous Knowledge throughout any career I have.”

Olivia's ultimate career ambition: “Two words,” she says, “David Attenborough.” 

Related articles