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Nia Gibson

Learning & Engagement Coordinator
Toronto Zoo
Nia Gibson avec Collin, une tortue mouchetée

Nia Gibson with Collin, a Blanding’s Turtle, who is between 30 and 80 years old.

Nia Gibson avec Collin, une tortue mouchetée

Nia Gibson with Collin, a Blanding’s Turtle, who is between 30 and 80 years old.

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About me

I was born/grew up in:  Manchester, UK

I now live in:  Whitby, Ontario

I completed my training/education at:  University of Wales – Post Graduate Certificate of Education, Oxford Brookes University – Post Graduate Certificate in Primate Conservation, University of Salford – BSc. Biological Sciences

What I do at work

My main role is to teach Zoo School. In this program, students come to the Zoo for a month in the summer and earn their grade 11 biology credit. This is kind of like being a regular teacher. I have to plan lessons, grade lab reports, and so on. However, I also get to do super fun stuff like take kids to pet rhinos and learn about ways in which we can help to protect them! I also run workshops for adults. This is where adults can come to learn about how to become more sustainable.

My main passion at work is to inspire people to help protect the planet’s biodiversity. I have to think of creative ways to get my message across. I try to do it in a way that will resonate with my audience. I hope that it will encourage them to make changes in their lives.

Working in a zoo brings its own unique set of challenges. When we plan programs we have to make sure the people are happy. We also have to make sure that the animals are happy too! Before we bring any new program to the Zoo, we carry out research to make sure there will be no negative affect on the animals.

I work as part of a team of three other Learning & Engagement coordinators. We are each responsible for our own programs. However, we often come together as a team to bounce ideas off each other and ask each other for advice.

Having a background in STEM definitely helps me in all aspects of my role. It helps me with the background knowledge I want to share with my students. It also helps me when I create engaging scientific activities. My background also helps me solve problems with an inquisitive and sometimes unique approach.

My career path is

As a child, I always loved animals. I remember creating a poster in school, about acid rain, when I was about nine. I think that started me on my journey of wanting to “help save the planet”. When I was in high school, I wanted to study zoology. My plan was to become an animal researcher or the next David Attenborough. When it was time to choose what I was going to study at university I decided to study Biology, rather than Zoology.  I thought that, as it was less specific, this would give me greater career choices. I focused my courses on ecology and animal sciences.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I completed a postgraduate certificate in primate conservation. Primates, especially gorillas have always been my favorite! By now, I fancied myself as the next Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey. Both were primatologists (scientists who study primates). I knew if I wanted to have a career in animal research or conservation I would have to gain some hands-on experience. As a result, I spent a summer in Greece working for a sea-turtle charity. Here I lived in a tent and was once visited by a 10ft snake!

At this point, I decided I probably wasn’t cut out for a life living in the jungle. As this is where primates generally live, I realized I would have to think of a different career choice. I looked at job postings. The ones that most interested me were in conservation education and required a background in teaching. I couldn’t get onto a teaching course for a year so I took a course in outdoor education while waiting. I got to do lots of fun things like kayaking and caving.

When I started my post-secondary education I didn’t realise I was carving out the path for my ideal career.  I just took courses that interested me. When it came to my current role at the Zoo, I turned out to be the perfect candidate. They were looking for a science teacher, who had experience in an outdoor teaching setting and a knowledge of conservation issues. All these random courses made me perfect for the job. My primate conservation course was the cherry on the cake! Check my LinkedIn profile for more details of my career path.

I am motivated by

Who wouldn’t get excited about getting to work with gorillas, pygmy hippos and komodo dragons? I love that I get to see these amazing species all the time. I also love that I get to pass on cool facts about them to our guests. My greatest reward is when a student who struggles with a topic finally gets it. I feel great that I was part of that journey. Ever since I can remember, I have loved animals and helping people. This job allows me to do both!

How I affect peoples’ lives

I hope that I inspire people to become more sustainable citizens. I hope they will help protect endangered species at home and abroad for future generations. I also hope that I can have an impact on young people’s lives. I encourage them to do what they love and believe in. I want them to know that everyone can make a difference.

Outside of work I

I love being in nature, kayaking, hiking, and bird watching. I also love to travel and have been lucky to visit many different countries and continents. My trips often revolve around nature spotting.

My advice to others

Do what you love and gain some hands-on experience. I found that having different courses than the rest of the candidates for my position made me stand out and made me qualified for this unique position. It is important to have experiences that you can talk about in interviews and to prove that you can do the job. That’s where the volunteering and hand-on experiences come in. Try to get a variety of experiences. I had volunteer experience in zoos and animal related fields but also in youth groups as well.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Foreign Languages
  • Geography
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Felt at home in the outside, natural environment
  • Always threw the best parties
  • Didn't really care about grades
  • Always knew exactly what I wanted to do

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