"Develop your passion, build and maintain your friendships, and work hard. All of those will help you now and in the future."
It's been a wild ride since graduation for Rabun Gap alum Charlie Olson '15. After graduating, he began working at the North Georgia Zoo as an animal educator and traveled around Georgia and occasionally other states performing educational exotic animal shows. Following his time at the North Georgia Zoo, he began working at Gatorland, a large reptile park in Orlando. There he got to work closely with alligators, parrots, and venomous snakes native to Florida. He then went to Colorado to work at SeaQuest, a small aquarium in Denver where he managed a collection of exotic animals with seven other people. He now works as a Herpetologist at the Tennessee Aquarium where he focuses on reptiles and amphibians.
Tell us what you have been doing since graduating from Rabun Gap?
I have stayed busy, that’s for sure. After graduating I almost immediately started working at the North Georgia Zoo as an animal educator. I traveled around Georgia and occasionally the country performing educational exotic animal shows. I really learned how little most people know about the amazing animals all around us and the issues they face. When I wasn’t performing, I was training animals, making diets, and cleaning. I also met my lifelong partner Maddie and we moved to Florida.
In Orlando I started working for Gatorland. It’s a huge park with over 2,000 alligators and crocodiles. Most of my time was spent on an off-property park with a copious number of gators, parrots, and other exotic reptiles. I was able to experiment with animal training by training some of the gators for husbandry behaviors and shows. I also got to work with native venomous snakes.
After a few years at Gatorland we moved to Denver, Colorado where I started working at a small aquarium called SeaQuest. I joined as a regular guest services member but quickly moved up the ranks eventually leaving as assistant general manager. While it was hard work and long hours, I was able to learn to manage a large collection of exotic animals with a team of 7 caring for over 150 animals ranging from wallabies, Burmese Pythons, macaws, and poison dart frogs. I led a major renovation in upgrading animal exhibits to naturalistic world-class exhibits, partnered with local businesses, and worked alongside some of the best exotic vets in the country.
I now work as a Herpetologist at the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the best aquariums in the country. My focus is completely on reptiles and amphibians. I care for a few of the rarest turtle species in the world, hellbender salamanders, and over 50 other reptile/amphibian species.
What is something interesting about you that we wouldn't find on your resume?
I’m an avid fossil hunter! One of my best finds is a massive megalodon tooth I found wading through the gator infested rivers of Florida.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Rabun Gap?
A kayaking group trip I did with Mr. Phillips. It was an awesome hanging out on the river with some of my closest friends.
Is there a specific faculty member, dorm parent, or coach who had a particularly important impact on you?
Mr. Lakey was my favorite teacher! I fully attribute my work ethic, patience, perseverance, and shoddy but innovative craftsmanship to his leadership in technical theatre and assistance in the Cirque program. I distinctly remember trying to construct a tree to hide a side wall and kept getting the measurements wrong. It took about 7 tries but eventually it fit perfectly. So many other people would have built it themselves or assigned another person, but I learned so much more building it 7 times than if he had given up on me.
What advice do you have for current Rabun Gap students that you wish someone had told you during your time at school?
Develop your passion, build and maintain your friendships, and work hard. All of those will help you now and in the future.
What would you like to see happen at Rabun Gap in the next 10 years.
Continue down the path you have been heading. It truly is a unique school with opportunities found nowhere else. Stay unique and continue instilling the work, study, worship mentality.
How did Rabun Gap help to prepare you or influence your future goals?
I did my first “exotic animal show” when I was a student helping a summer program. So, you could truly say I got my start at Rabun Gap.