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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Kortney Jaworski

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Kortney Jaworski.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

The Virginia Living Museum (herpetology curator), Christopher Newport University (adjunct faculty), John Carroll University (M.S.), Ohio University (B.S.)

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

6-8 years depending on when you start count. I received my B.S. in Wildlife & Conservation Biology from Ohio University (Athens, OH) in 2011, and my M.S. in Biology from John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH) in 2014, where I studying courtship behavior in red-backed salamanders. I then moved to Virginia with my now husband and got a job at the Virginia Living Museum in the fall of 2014. I had been part of the scientific community for a while in school, assisting with many research projects, attending conferences, reading and writing scientific articles. But then I joined a different type of educational community by working at the VLM and eventually getting hired as an adjunct instructor at Christopher Newport University in the spring of 2015. I loved interacting with and educating members of the community at the VLM, and also educating tomorrow's biologists as an instructor at CNU. For about 3 years I juggled a few part time jobs (VLM guest services associate, VLM herpetology keeper, CNU adjunct biology instructor), until I was hired full time as Senior Herpetology Keeper in 2017. I continued teaching an evening non-majors biology course each spring semester at CNU through 2020. Recently, I was promoted to Herpetology Curator at the VLM, which means I am the department lead, managing all the herpetology department's staff, volunteers, animals and exhibits (among other duties!).

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

6 years, moved to NN in 2014

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Follow your passions! Work hard, study hard, but also have hobbies. Better yourself. And Network! Don't feel like you need to have a definitive answer to that questions "What do you want to do when you grow up/get out of school". There are lots of opportunities out there; be open to them. Try things out and find out what you DON'T like, the rest might just fall into place.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

I get the impression that this has been changing over the last 10 years or so, but zookeeping and herpetology specifically always seemed like "male jobs" in my mind. You're outside getting dirty, you're working with things that most people think of as "icky" or "dangerous" (snakes, frogs, alligators, snapping turtles, etc.), you're building and fixing things (plumbing repair, electrical work, using power tools, heavy lifting). You may also have male coworkers and superiors, so you need to feel comfortable speaking your mind in all situations, particularly when you are an advocate for the animals. Their wellbeing depends on you making appropriate decisions. I actually love the part of my job where I get to be working in front of the public with a large snake or an alligator because it puts an image in people's minds... I'm a small-ish, young-ish, female and I love these animals that many people are afraid of. I hope that I can inspire people to be brave and think "if she can do it, maybe it's not so bad" because really snakes are not that bad... just highly misunderstood!

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

As I mentioned above, I am of smaller stature, so I do struggle at times being able to reach things and lift things that are required for my work. Yet, squeezing into tight spaces can be much more comfortable for me than for some of my larger male counterparts. As I also stated above, I think people's perception of me working with the animals that I love (snakes, alligators, frogs, lizards) gives a certain image that maybe these animals aren't so bad and scary. I think it makes me more approachable and I use this to my advantage to reach people.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as an artist? In what ways?

I don't have children, but I do plan to have a child; though my husband and I both wanted to establish our careers first. Thus, we are 32 and 39 years old with no children as of yet. Something to consider for young people. I don't know how having a child will influence my future self and career, but I know that my job is very physically demanding, and that could be a struggle while pregnant and after childbirth. Staying in shape will be very important. Also getting appropriate rest is important for mental wellbeing, and sound decision making (especially in my case where I could be working with potentially dangerous animals). I imagine this could also be a struggle at times with children in your life. Though, I suppose all women struggle with this regardless of their career field.

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