February 16, 2022
Vaughn Severin: Finding Solutions for Success
- as seen by -Julie Larsen Maher
Black History Month is a time to reflect on achievements by African Americans, embrace equality, and inspire future generations.
Vaughn Severin is Manager of Ride Maintenance for the Wildlife Conservation Society at its five parks in New York City including the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo.
We had the opportunity to talk about his work at WCS and what Black History Month means to him.
JLM: Tell me about your role at WCS.
I have been at WCS for 13 years. I started with a summer job as a shuttle driver taking visitors around WCS’s Bronx Zoo. I’ve always had an interest in cars and machinery (I ride a Harley Davidson Road King Classic), and how things work. I gradually expanded into the vast technical and mechanical environment at the zoo. I take care of a fleet of vehicles including trains, cars, shuttles, golf carts, and other zoo vehicles.
I work throughout WCS’s five parks on various projects such as network infrastructure, electrical work, and installation of point-of-sale devices. On the creative side, I take you up in a lift or out on a boat so you can get unique shots of zoo scenes. Other times, you’ve asked me to model in front of the camera for the zoo.
Most people don’t realize there are career choices like mine at the zoo.
JLM: Any on-the-job anecdotes you’d like to share?
My work is always changing, which I love. Take this inter-borough special delivery, for example.
I am around animals and other interesting characters every day – even dinosaurs. I was part of a team that transported a fully assembled life-size Cryolophosaurus over 20 feet long to Prospect Park Zoo, where it would make people aware of a Dinosaur Safari event at the Bronx Zoo. We loaded our unusual shipment onto our animal food commissary flatbed truck and headed out on a road trip from the Bronx to Brooklyn.
We started on the interstate and then took to the local streets because our load was too high to clear the area’s bridges. We were very entertaining to the citizens of New York City – the talk of the town. Traffic stopped all along our route. We were like superstars. Everyone got out of their cars and came out of their houses to take pictures. People were asking us when Dinosaur Safari started. We saw ourselves on social media everywhere. The dinosaur move turned out to be a great promotion for the event that summer.
JLM: Is there anyone that has inspired you?
I am most thankful to my mother, who made a very difficult decision—when my brother, sister, and I were just toddlers—to move to America. She left us behind and worked hard for many years, often going to multiple jobs in one day to give her children a better life. Without her sacrifice, the success I have today would not have been possible.
JLM: What advice would you give to someone who wants a career like yours with a conservation organization?
VS: The Bronx Zoo is its own city within the city. There are many different moving parts to its operations, which provides many different career paths. Those interested in a job like mine should educate themselves, invest in their passion, and grow with the times. Focus energy to get to the next level. If something is important, find a way.
I’m proud that the work I do benefits WCS and has a purpose. It has an impact.
JLM: What does Black History Month mean to you?
It reminds me that I have no excuse to not achieve the professional goals I have set forth for myself. I appreciate the hard work, sacrifice, and courage of Black Americans before me who paved the way for my success at WCS, an organization known around the world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This month on Wild View, we will be highlighting a cross-section of Black WCS staff members who play a vital role in the success of the organization. Excerpted from PBS Nature. Dinosaur Safari will be returning Spring 22 from April 11 – October 30.