Educated Women of the Week- Alex Porpora

Alex Porpora
Education Manager, Animal Jam

Where did you go to school and what did you study?
BA at the University of Miami,
MS at the University of Utah
Anthropology, Biology, and Environmental Humanities

Tell us about your school/work life:
A long and circuitous path has led me to my current career in education. As an undergraduate in the early 00’s I was pretty dead-set on following a route that would lead me directly to a PhD in primatology. I spent a few years working at the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Central Florida and it was there I discovered I had a knack for creating educational programs and relating scientific concepts to children and adults. Informal education was essentially a way for me to earn a living while geeking out over the natural world.

This passion led me to get my Master’s Degree in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah. EH? You might say. Don’t worry. I get it. EH is a way of understanding the environment through the perspective of the humanities. I wrote my thesis on Place Based Education and made a gazillion amazing connections along the way.

I have had the opportunity to develop, deliver and evaluate high quality education programs for all ages for zoos, museums and nonprofit organizations.

Currently, I am the Education Manager with Animal Jam, the most popular online social network for kids ages 7-12. My role allows me to create fun science content in a variety of mediums and gives me the opportunity to work with various conservation organizations to spread the word about how amazing animals are. Again, geeking out about the natural world. My goal is to take this very popular online game and use it’s robust world to create engaging content that teachers can use in the classroom that students are actually excited about.

Tell us about your life outside of school/work:
I’m a lady of many trades, but a master of none.

Last year I got really into exploring ghost towns around Utah, which was a fun way to see the state and get out of the house on the weekends. I’ve seen some mighty interesting stuff, but nothing supernatural.

I spend a fair amount of time reading (mostly sci-fi post grad school), doing the crossword puzzle (NYT!), birdwatching, cross-stitching, half-marathon training and I am a professional at Googling pictures of cute baby animals. One of my life goals is to hold a sloth.

What does goal setting look like for you?
For me, the most important thing about goal setting has been sharing my goal with others. Once you proclaim what you are planning to set out and achieve then you know that other people are expecting you to follow through. I also take the time to think about what steps I’ll need to take to achieve my goal. Whether its coming up with an interesting work project, personal project or even something as basic as what I am going to make for dinner, sharing what I want to achieve helps me complete what I have set out to do.

How do you de-stress?
I used to be really terrible at de-stressing, leading me to form some pretty terrible habits. I’ve found that this is probably one of the most important things I can do for myself, and it helps me to be more effective when setting out to accomplish professional and personal endeavors. I’ve learned to structure time in my day for many of these things.

In no particular order: exercising (either structured workouts or a simple walk around the block), listening to podcasts (favorites include 99% Invisible, Welcome to Nightvale, Call Your Girlfriend and Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids), hanging out with my cat, reading, and savoring a craft beer.

How have your career passions changed over the course of your career, and how have you managed transitions?
I’ve definitely shifted focus a few times in my career. Fortunately, I’ve managed to acquire a few amazing mentors along the way. During each transition these were always folks I could call up to have a conversation about how things were going and how I could best manage the new task ahead of me. Frequently, they could point me towards resources or people that could help me out.

I think finding someone that you consider a mentor is really valuable. I definitely have a few folks who fall into the “older and wiser” mentor category, but I certainly have a few peers that I don’t hesitate to connect with when faced with a quandary. It has also been really beneficial to me to have mentors that are women. It’s been very empowering and gives me something to aspire to.

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