Non-Tech Employees Working In Tech: Alex Porpora, WildWorks

Our ongoing series explores the contributions of non-tech employees working at tech companies.

Yesterday I took my daughter to the zoo. While we were there she asked the following questions:

  1. Why do seals clap?
  2. Why are tortoises slow?
  3. Why are birds so many different colors?

“Hell if I know,” is what I almost told her. Because I have no idea why seals clap, or why tortoises are slow, or why birds birds are so many different colors. I’m a failure. But luckily for her, there are people in this world who know why seals clap and why tortoises are slow and why birds are so many different colors. And there are people working to make that knowledge accessible to kids the world over.

People like Alex Porpora who works as the Education Manager at WildWorks. As Education Manager, Porpora develops and promotes education content via Animal Jam Academy and the Wild Explorers series, which is great. So great that I just watched nine of the videos. By myself.

Porpora also works with formal and informal educators to share educational resources, and works to develop partnerships with organizations doing real world conservation work. “This is a big win-win since we can share their information with our huge audience of players, and our players can learn about real, current issues in science and conservation,” Porpora says.

“I never imagined I would be working in the tech industry,” says Porpora. Porpora studied Physical and Biological Anthropology at the University of Miami, then received a Master’s in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah. After graduating she worked at The Living Planet Aquarium, the Lemur Conservation Foundation, TreeUtah and The Leonardo. While at The Leonardo, she met the Vice President of Marketing at WildWorks who later offered her a job.

When Porpora joined WildWorks, she brought with her an understanding how kids learn and how Animal Jam can best help them explore their natural curiosity. “I’ve been working with kids for most of my career,” Porpora says. “Kids learn science through hands on experience. Science itself is more of a process. A way of understanding.”

She also offers a unique perspective into how girls — who are often discouraged from pursuing STEM education and careers — can become interested and stay interested in science. “Across the board, supporting girls with more mentors is the key to supporting girls in STEM,” Porpora says. “If I hadn’t had a really great mentor, I would be a mess.” In order to provide young girls mentors, or at the very least role models, the WildWorks team often features women experts in their content. But they never pander. “Kids are smart. They know [the pandering] is nonsense,” Porpora explains. “It’s about pushing a general understanding of the impact of science in our lives.”

Regardless of whether or not a girl, or any kid, decides to pursue a STEM career, an understanding of how science impacts our lives can help them better navigate life. “Being able to know and understand how things happen allows people to be better and more informed decisions makers,” Porpora says.

“Our game isn’t an educational game, but gives players the opportunity to explore topics they may be interested in on their own terms,” Porpora says. “We hope to spark curiosity and a desire for discovery.”

I’ve already downloaded Animal Jam on my phone, and thanks to Porpora’s efforts, I full expect her to tell me why tortoises are slow, why seals clap, and why birds are so many different colors next time we hit up Hogle.

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