Featured Rewildologist: Katie Propp
Hi, Katie! We are stoked to chat with you. Tell us, what do you do?
I’m the Conservation Education Director at Penguins International (Denver-based but we work with all 18 species below the equator). At a small non-profit like Penguins International, I have the opportunity to wear many hats within my role as Conservation Education Director. I get to merge my two passions, field conservation and education together through the work I do.
Penguins International’s mission is saving penguins to save the planet. At the heart of what we do is public education and supporting ongoing conservation initiatives in the penguin scientific community.
I have the pleasure of working with penguin scientists, rehabilitators, zookeepers, aquarists and conservationists in developing public education programs based on the needs of our partners and the AZA community. Utilizing a hands-on science approach we create out-of-the box activities for the public. The goal is to engage the public in penguin science, build an understanding threats to penguins, and develop a empathy for these marine birds.
Part of my job entails working with our conservation partners like The Punta San Juan Program, to assist in aspects of projects like building artificial nest boxes for Humboldt penguins. Supporting SANCCOB by fundraising for an expansion on their chick bolstering unit when the influx of abandoned African penguin eggs has increased due to climate change, or bringing funding and awareness to researcher Dr. Michelle LaRue whom is studying Emperor penguin ocean foraging using GPS trackers. I manage these programs, our corporate partnerships, and private donors by providing updates and scheduling meetings. I also have the pleasure of traveling to many of our partner locations which is an absolute added benefit!
I generate program reports, create social media content, write grants, provide community outreach, solicit corporate partnerships and donors, run peer-to-peer fundraisers, and represent the company for conferences and media campaigns. Like I said, I wear many hats!
Wow! Educating the world about penguins (and then some)! How wonderful. What is the journey that led you to what you’re doing today?
That’s a rather long story. I started as a teen volunteer at Brookfield Zoo and that opened up so many doors for me including becoming an Arctic Ambassador for Polar Bears International (PBI) at the age of 16! I traveled to Canada in 2008 and saw polar bears in the wild for the first time. Learning from the scientists, educators, and leaders at PBI camp inspired me to pursue conservation zoology. I graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in zoology with a concentration in wildlife biology and conservation and spent my summers in college working with Jack Hanna’s program animals at the Columbus Zoo. I’ve since worked with several institutions including COSI in Columbus, explore.org, Green Columbus, Cincinnati Zoo, myActions/Purposeful Networks, SeaWorld/Busch Gardens, Denver Zoo, and The Downtown Aquarium Denver to name a few. Each of these opportunities helped build my skill set and connected me with mentors that shaped me into the leader I am today.
Have hope. In a field where we see populations decline and species added to the endangered list, it is easy to slide into a negative space. It is people with hope that make a difference, that believes in change and ignites the hearts of their peers. Together we can change the world and make it better for the animals that call it home. It’s easy to focus on the failures but we also need to look at the successes- things that humanity has done for the benefit of wild creatures and wild places. In my short time on this Earth, we truly have accomplished so much in the realm of science and conservation! In the words of the late Steve Irwin, “Be passionate and enthusiastic in the direction that you choose in life, and you’ll be a winner.”
Thank you so much for your time, Katie!
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