Career Corner: Melissa King, Public Programs
Name: Melissa King
Position Title: Manager of Public Programs
Education: Bachelor’s in Psychology and Bachelor’s in Sociology. Certified Interpretative Guide and Certified Interpreter Trainer
Hometown: Lawrenceville, Georgia
Length of time at Zoo Atlanta: 13 years
Tell us about your job and any projects you are working on.
Currently I am working on planning programs for 2020. My job along with my team is to create and teach programs out on grounds for the guests who visit the Zoo. As I plan new things we’re going to do in 2020, I am coming up with new ways to incorporate our conservation messages into the programs. I am also focusing on new trainings in the field of interpretation. Interpretation is an explanation of the meaning of something and is an informal educational process. If you visit the Zoo, you may see some of our Exhibit Interpreters or Volunteers out on grounds. They help guests learn about the animals by answering questions, explaining why an animal might be acting a certain way, and using tools like biofacts to help guests get a better understanding of these amazing wild animals. Our Exhibit Interpreters also run our Keeper for a Day and Wild Encounter programs, which give guests the opportunity to get a lot closer to some of the animals at Zoo Atlanta. Look out for some of these revamped programs related to the African Savanna coming in 2020!
What attracted you to this field?
I grew up visiting Zoo Atlanta with my family and always loved animals. In college I was interested in becoming a bird keeper, and while visiting the Zoo for an anthropology course, I met an intern who was interpreting at gorillas. This was my first interaction with interpretation, and it inspired me to pursue a career in this informal education field. Shortly after that, I became a Zoo Atlanta Volunteer. I then became a part-time educator teaching programs like Summer Safari Camp, and then moved into a permanent role as a full-time Exhibit Interpreter. Now, I am the Manager of Public Programs and get to inspire and teach others about careers in interpretation.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?
For me, having the opportunity to see how much the field of interpretation has grown at Zoo Atlanta and that I am a part of it has been one of the highlights of my career. I am excited about what the future holds for my team, building up how we deliver our messaging and creating new interpretive programs.
What prepared you for your job?
Volunteering and internships gave me insight and experience for my career. I was able to learn more about Zoo education, and it gave me more time to learn about the field of interpretation before starting professionally. I also had good mentors to help learn from. Connecting to others in the field of interpretation and informal education were key for me to learn how to better my own skills.
What advice would you give to students interested in this field/career?
For any career, you need to follow your passion. To become an interpreter, which is a wide field, you will need to figure out what you are interested in, whether it’s zoos, aquariums, museums or parks. Then figure out why are you passionate about it, and what do you want to share with other people? Interpretation is about finding ways to connect people to the subject matter you are passionate about.