Not only does Curator of Equity Programs Rachel Helfing help guide diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility efforts at the L.A. Zoo, she’s also supporting nation-wide efforts as a member of the communications team for the Association of Minority Zoo & Aquarium Professionals (AMZAP). Rachel shares about the organization, its mission, and the Zoo’s proud partnership, as well as her own career journey.
What is AMZAP and why is it important?
It’s a group that connects minority zoo and aquarium professionals across the U.S. (and now Canada!). AMZAP started at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. in 2020 and grew quickly. There was really a need in the zoo and aquarium fields for a space where minority professionals could build a community together, so AMZAP provides a space where we can network and celebrate professionals of ethnic and racial minority heritage. Increasing minority representation is important to making animal care and conservation careers an option for interested minorities, and AMZAP will even match emerging professionals (the AMZAP affiliate members) with a mentor to help them reach their career goals.
What is your involvement in AMZAP?
I became an AMZAP member and minority mentor last year, and very recently joined the AMZAP communications team. It’s been wonderful connecting with other zoo and aquarium professionals, especially since the past few years have been so isolating.
Describe your journey to the Zoo career you have today.
I tried a lot of different careers out before finally finding the zoo field. I graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Earth and Environmental Science, and then went on to take several internships that required me to travel and exposed me to different jobs, including wildlife education and rehabilitation, archery instructor, and even a horse wrangler for a summer. I was fortunate to have family support and internships that provided stipends and housing while I figured out what I wanted to do. Eventually, I was hired at the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park as an education instructor, and it all came together – I had finally found a place that balanced my love for people, animals, and nature into one career. I went on to get my M.A. in STEM Education before joining the L.A. Zoo in Fall 2019, and I’m thrilled to be here!
How is the L.A. Zoo partnering with AMZAP?
The L.A. Zoo is an AMZAP support organization, which is fantastic. Support organizations are accredited zoos and aquariums that have publicly supported AMZAP as an organization and encourage their staff to participate in AMZAP if they are interested. The L.A. Zoo has been great about supporting my personal involvement. It means a lot to me that our CEO, Denise M. Verret, is an AMZAP member, too!
How does the Zoo’s partnership with AMZAP fit into its larger efforts to attract and support a more diverse and inclusive workforce?
One of the things I love about the L.A. Zoo is that we are given the time to learn more about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility (DEIBA) and how it relates to our roles at work. The Zoo created an Equity Programs Division in 2020 that has hosted several DEIBA trainings, allowing us to communicate more clearly and openly about things like supporting the diverse workforce at the Zoo. Being a support organization for AMZAP is a great way for the Zoo to acknowledge its minority team members and amplify career opportunities through the AMZAP job board. There is still room to grow, but it is a fantastic start.