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VOL. 132 | NO. 35 | Friday, February 17, 2017

Murrell Helps Teens Find the Right Career Path


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Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.

Erica Murrell admits to three obsessions: kids, animals and science. Fortunately, she’s got a job that connects all three. “For me, it’s about connecting people with what they’re passionate about,” she says. “I love figuring out where to put them.”

Murrell is manager of volunteer services at the Memphis Zoo, a job that involves deploying up to 150 volunteers at a single event. She begins many projects by conducting short interviews with each volunteer and paid intern to determine their interests and passions. Then she weighs her findings and makes an assignment.

For instance, if a teen seems shy but wants a career that involves public speaking, they might find themselves addressing crowds. If a high school student intends to pursue a career that involves working with children – off to the day camp they go. Murrell says it was a last-minute epiphany during her undergraduate years that helped her find her own path.

Erica Murrell (Ziggy Mack)

“When I was a 7-year-old, I told everyone I wanted to be a doctor,” she recalls. “From then on, that’s what they told me. I didn’t realize I had changed my mind until sophomore year.”

As a student at Rhodes, Murrell initially took pre-med courses. But volunteering at hospitals and research labs led her to determine that the work wasn’t for her. In order to maintain her scholarship, she had to quickly choose another field. Her fascination with animals led her to a different branch of biology.

“Obsession is more like it,” she reflects. “I mean, I went vegetarian at age 9. I tricked my dad into adopting our first dog. Who does that?”

Among the programs Murrell manages, her favorite is the Team Zoo internship. Funded by the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation, these paid positions are designed to expose high school students to a variety of jobs around the zoo – everything from horticulture to marketing, IT, facilities management and animal care – which will inform their career-planning process.

Perhaps more importantly, says Murrell, it teaches teens to take themselves seriously.

“We do an interview just like you would with any paid position,” explained Murrell, “We challenge our interns to dig deep and think strategically about their future.”

Though young people occupy most of Murrell’s time in summer, her job also involves finding the best fit for adult volunteers – whether it’s in the IT department or on the giraffe feeding deck. Those who aspire to be veterinarians often end up working with animals, and the pathologically extroverted become tour guides.

“Some of our docents have been here for 20 years,” Murrell observes. “I have learned so much from them.”

Murrell is passionate about her work – so much so that she has to fight the temptation to come into the office on her days off. Still, there comes a point where managing hundreds of volunteers begins to take its toll. In those moments, Murrell says, the zoo offers unique benefits.

“At what other job can you say, ‘OK, this day has been a little much. I’m going take 10 minutes and go talk to a giraffe.”

Erica Murrell is an alum of New Memphis’ Embark program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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