Southeast Alumna Living the Dream at Cincinnati Zoo

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There’s a time for work and a time for fun … unless you are Southeast Missouri State University alumna Alix Gasser.

After all, having fun at work is part of her job description at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Gasser, a native of Mogadore, Ohio, is director of membership, business development and fun, and while she focuses on recruiting new and maintaining current zoo memberships, the entertaining and exciting atmosphere at the Cincinnati Zoo plays an important role in her daily duties and responsibilities.

“The culture here is amazing, because no matter what you do at the zoo – park services, facilities, animal care teams, visitor experience, development – you should be having fun and love what you are doing,” Gasser said.

At Southeast, Gasser earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, integrated marketing communications option, in 2010 and a Master of Business Administration in entrepreneurship in 2015. She’s applying the skills and knowledge she gained while at Southeast in a creative and supportive environment.

“It’s easy when you work for a company that is selling a fantastic product and is a leader in the profession,” she said. “Because of this, I have a little more wiggle room to try out new things. If I have an idea and I’ve done the research, I often get a ‘Let’s try it’ rather than ‘It’s too much of a risk.’ I also love how collaborative the zoo and museum world is – everyone is willing to share their successes and failures.”

Southeast alumna Alix Gasser in front of the Fiona Wall at the Cincinnati Zoo.

On her job with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden:

My main function is to help recruit new and maintain our current zoo membership base. Members are vital to the success of the zoo. They help fund vet care, sustainability projects, infrastructure updates, and so much more. I love getting to know the over 69,000 member households we have here at the zoo. I actually meet with a group of them once a month to see what they love about the zoo and things that we could improve.

The culture here is amazing and not like anything I have ever experienced before. Everyone loves their jobs and is always willing to help out everyone else. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty fantastic that on my way into work I get to walk past the African lions, flamingos, giraffes, ducks and swans and the red-crowned cranes. If I need a break from my desk, I can walk into the zoo and see my favorite animals, the otters named Wesley and Sugar, swimming excitedly in their pool.

On why she wanted to work for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden:

The Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in America and one of the oldest non-profits in Cincinnati. They are a leader when it comes to animal welfare, sustainability efforts, education of conservation efforts, and employee culture. Recently, we were granted our accreditation by the American Zoo Association (AZA) independent Accreditation Commission. During that process, we were touted as one of the leaders in the zoological profession.

I love working for a non-profit that focuses on the welfare and conservation of over 500 different species of animals and over 2,500 species and cultivars of plants.

I also get to help with our Zoo Access for All program that started in October 2017, which makes sure that the zoo is accessible to everyone with a primary focus on visitors with developmental disabilities, English as a Second Language, and low-income, at-risk, and underserved children and families. I love working with our Family Advisory Council Members, who provide guidance and feedback to our leadership team on how our developmental disability supports and training are working out in the park as well as providing guidance on how we can make the zoo a better experience for their families. Within the next few months, we will have a calming room open and next spring, an accessible ropes course online.

 On why she chose Southeast:

Southeast offered an affordable education that provided me with so many open doors (and windows) to pursue my passion and gain real-life experience. I was always more than just a body in the classroom. I really got to know my professors and received great coaching and mentorship at Southeast.

I started out in theatre and dance and found my true passion in marketing. I loved being able to be creative with a sense of order.

I also wanted to go away for college, and Southeast provided me the opportunity to do that, since it was about a 10-hour drive from home. No matter where I was at Southeast, I always felt at home. I met my husband there and so many of my friends.

On how her time at Southeast prepared her for a career at the Cincinnati Zoo:

I got to know myself as a person at Southeast. Because I lived so far away, I really had to rely on myself and my work ethic to face problems and find solutions.

Without my short time in theatre and dance, I probably wouldn’t be as quick on my feet or have my ability to think outside the box in a situation. Theatre gave me the ability to empathize and relate to others, as well as my ability to work with all different types of people.

I also had amazing faculty mentors in the Harrison College of Business and Computing, including Dr. James Caldwell (associate professor of management), Dr. Willie Redmond (professor of economics and director of Southeast’s International Business Programs), Dr. Kevin Dickson (chair of the Southeast Department of Management and professor of management), Dr. Sandipan Sen (associate professor of marketing), Dr. Judy Wiles (chair of Southeast’s Department of Marketing) and so many others. They pushed me to think creatively and critically through problems to find the best solutions. I always want to try something new. My professors helped me harness my strengths and showed me how to use them to be successful in a business atmosphere.

I would also say my time working in the Office of Admissions on campus and recruiting students at Southeast has helped me to be successful in my current position. I had a great supervisor in Lenell Hahn, director of Admissions. Without her as a mentor and friend, I wouldn’t have had the ability to be as successful as I am in making decisions, using my talents, and working collaboratively as part of a team. She taught me to challenge the status quo.

On the advice for future Southeast students:

It takes time and lots of hard work to get to your dream job. I didn’t get to be a director overnight. I had to do a lot of the menial tasks and devote long hours to get where I wanted to be. Give everything you do 100%. You never know who is watching. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s time for a change, but know that you have to do some of the things you don’t love to get to experience something you do love. One of my favorite quotes is, “Don’t walk 10 miles into the forest and expect to get out in five.” You have to do the work.

I love Southeast! I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Southeast, I met my husband (Southeast Alumni Relations Director George Gasser) at Southeast, and I started my career at Southeast. Get involved in your alma mater. Be helpful and kind to everyone. You never know when you’re going to need help from that person in the future.

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