I Heart My Science Career! An Interview with a Zoo Educator

By Scientific Minds
22 December, 2016


In an effort to inspire students to pursue STEM careers and interests, "I Heart My Science Career" highlights a person with a career in the sciences. Today's Scientific Minds interview is with Joanne Baptista, Houston Zoo Educator and Adult Programs Coordinator.

SM: Tell us a little bit about your childhood.

JB: Growing up, I always enjoyed and excelled at science and math.  I enjoyed trips to science museums with my parents.  In Orange, TX, I participated in Science Superstars and loved sharing the science activities with kids of all ages.  Through Science Superstars I discovered BIOS, a School on Wheels, and took part in their Texas trip during the summer of 1999.  I enjoyed the many places we were able to visit around the state and spending two weeks enjoying nature. 

SM: What is your education background? What degree(s) or training did you receive?

JB: I attended Texas A&M University in College Station where I majored in Interdisciplinary Studies.  I received my EC-4 and my 4-8 Generalist teaching certificate in 2007. 

SM: What inspired you to choose your college major?

JB: I knew from a young age that I always wanted to work with kids.  I thought being a teacher or pediatrician would be fun.  Then I realized how long doctors actually go to school for, so I decided that teaching was more my style. 

SM: What has been your career path since you completed your degree (first degree if more than one)?

JB: After I graduated from Texas A&M, I taught 5th grade for five years in Humble ISD.  I taught all the subjects, but I especially enjoyed teaching math and science.  During my summers off, I began working as a Camp Zoofari teacher at the Houston Zoo.  I fell in love with the zoo, the animals, and the fun of informal education.  After teaching camp for four summers, I applied for a full time position, and I got it!

SM: Have you made any changes in your original career path? If so, why?

JB: YES!  I never thought in a million years that I would work at a zoo.  The great thing is I am still following part of my original career path – working with kids.  Just in a much different setting then I ever dreamed. 

SM: What, if any, additional training have you completed in order to meet the qualifications for your current job?

JB: I have had the opportunity to go to various science conferences around the state where I make sure I keep up with what is going on in formal education.  Most of my training/knowledge for my current job was gained on the job.  I would attend keeper chats and ask as many questions as I could to find out all the fun facts about the animals at the Houston Zoo. 

SM: How did you find your current job? What job-hunting resources did you use?

JB: During the summer of 2012, while I was teaching Camp Zoofari at the Houston Zoo, several full time positions in the education department opened up.  I applied for one and got it!

SM: Describe a typical day at work.

JB: I have never had two of the exact same days while I’ve been working at the Houston Zoo.  I head in to the office every morning at 7:30am.  I spend some time responding to emails and making sure I have everything ready for whatever I am teaching that day.  Some days I might be leading on-grounds school programs or visiting schools with our animal ambassadors.  I may have the opportunity to take some guests on a behind-the-scenes tour or lead one of our educator workshops.  Once my programs are done for the day, I’ll spend some time planning the larger programs I am in charge of like our Collegiate Conservation Program internship, which spans 10 weeks during the summer or one of our larger educator events that we host throughout the year. 

SM: What parts of your job do you enjoy the most?

JB: I enjoy the Houston Zoo animals that I get to see every day at work.  I also enjoy having variety in my job with the programming and the various audiences I get to reach in any given week. 

SM: What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

JB: I had the opportunity to create a brand new educator program.  Our new program got off the ground in August 2016, and it was wonderful to work alongside the different departments and my co-workers to create a special evening for educators at the Houston Zoo. 

SM: What career advice do you think high schools and colleges should be giving students?

JB: Volunteering and/or internships are key to getting in to your desired field.  I spent my summers working part time jobs, but an internship would have been another great way to learn about other career opportunities. 

SM: At the end of the day, what gives you a feeling of satisfaction concerning your job?

JB: I enjoy seeing a child’s face light up when they learn about a new animal or discover a new fact about one of their favorite animals.  It is also very rewarding to hear how educators use activities they learned at the zoo in their classrooms or how they are teaching their students to help save wildlife. 

SM: What advice do you have for students considering a career in the sciences?

JB: Keep your options open until you figure out what your true passion is. 

Is there a science career you would like to learn more about? Leave us a comment, and we'll plan an interview!

The "I Heart My Science Career" Blog Goals – To highlight someone working in a science-related field so that students may learn the following:

1. There are abundant and diverse career opportunities that are not typically presented to them as science careers.

2. People just like them, with similar backgrounds, are working in these jobs.

3. Careers often take exciting paths that couldn’t have been predicted when choosing a science major or graduating with a specific degree in science. The world of science is ever-changing, and so are jobs that involve science.

Check out the Science Sidekicks (grades 3-5), the Science Starters (grades 6-8), Biology Starters or Chemistry Starters with a Free Trial!

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