Zollinger, however, did not start out in life to become a scientist. While growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, she had aspirations of procuring a career as a visual artist. She attended a special magnet high school for the arts in Maryland and then started a B.F.A. program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During that time, Zollinger landed an internship in the anthropology department at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. She worked in the “Africa” collections, cataloging holdings for an upcoming exhibit. Her proximity to the museum’s birds department allowed her to interact with avian scientists and preparators.

After taking a few years off from school to earn and save money for tuition, Zollinger transferred to University of Illinois at Chicago to complete her bachelor’s degree. Influenced by her experiences at the Field Museum, she added some biology courses to her schedule to inspire her art.; She quickly realized, however, a new passion: SCIENCE! Zollinger transferred to the University of Maryland where she completed a B.S. (cum laude) in biological sciences.

Rod Suthers’ innovative work in vocal production and communication in birds as well as the multi-departmental community of animal behavior researchers in the Center for Integrative Study in Animal Behavior drew Zollinger to Indiana University to pursue her doctoral studies.

As a means to not get too removed from art while working on her Ph.D., Zollinger resurrected the pie club. The Pie of the Month Club—postcards Zollinger designed with an interesting pie recipe on one side and an original illustration on the other side—was a novel way she conceived during her years in Chicago to stay connected with friends as well as to regularly create a new piece of artwork. It grew into a website during her IU years. “The POTMC was always mostly about cultural history, art, and folklore more than actually about pie baking,” Zollinger explains.

After receiving her Ph.D., Zollinger was offered a postdoc position at University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she worked with one of the fathers of birdsong research, Peter Slater, in collaboration with Henrik Brumm (The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany). The project examined effects of urban noise on birdsong learning and vocal behavior. For logistical reasons, the project and Zollinger relocated to The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany in 2010. It was there she became a research scientist and began a long-term collaboration with Henrik Brumm in the institute’s Communication and Social Behaviour Group.