Know Your Educators

Valerie Butler, BioEYES Baltimore

Valerie Butler started work at the Carnegie Institution as a technician in our fish facility. After designing the original incarnation of the BioEYES website, she was hired on as an Outreach Educator, and when the former BioEYES Baltimore Program Manager retired in 2012 she moved up into the role. Since then she spends most of her time writing grants, maintaining donor relations, and generally overseeing the whole program, but is still occasionally called into service in the classroom. Read on to learn more about Valerie!

How long have you been with Project BioEYES?

I joined BioEYES in 2009.

What is your title and role in Project BioEYES?

My title is BioEYES Program Manager. My role is varied. BioEYES is supported by grants and gifts that pay for educator salaries, travel costs to and from schools, and classroom and teacher supplies. So I am primarily responsible for fundraising. That includes writing and managing grants, running our donor program, and coordinating fundraising events. I also manage staff, conduct education research, oversee the coordination of events, volunteers, and teacher professional development workshops, and sometimes teach in schools. It is a lot! I spend a good amount of time writing though, which I enjoy.

What's one or two previous positions you held?

I was a bike messenger when I first moved to Baltimore. I worked as a freelance graphic designer for ten years and later got into web design. I also worked as a system administrator in the IT field and remember when one of my colleagues first told us about the "World Wide Web." He said it was also called "The Internet," and said that sometimes people called it "The Net." I didn’t know what he was talking about. This was in the early 1990s, well before most people were online!

What brought you into the realm of informal science education and non-profit?

Hmm, that is kind of a long story. I didn't love my work as a graphic designer, so I went to the library and found a book on changing your career. I used the book to conduct a personal assessment so I had a clearer picture of what I liked to do and what was important to me. Making a difference in my community rose to the forefront. I also realized that I loved to read about science.

It was then that I went back to school and finished my undergraduate degree (in biology), which had been derailed by the devastating loss of my sister when I was 18 and just starting college. After getting my degree later in life, I wasn’t sure how to transition from an established career to a new one, and the ensuing pay cut that would come out of that transition.

When the economy went south in 2008-2009, and my clients were having trouble paying me, a friend told me about a job at Carnegie Science that I decided to take to help make ends meet. I had also been doing some freelance grant writing for a youth-led video arts nonprofit in Baltimore called Kids on the Hill (now known as New Lens Productions). That introduced me to nonprofit life and really connected me to my desire to be able to offer something of value to my community in Baltimore.

My job is not one I could have imagined on paper but it has been very rewarding and continues to challenge me and provide a lot of variety, which is also something I like.

What is your favorite part about working with BioEYES?

I think my job uses a lot of my skills in a way that other jobs have failed to do, so that is nice. But I wouldn't be doing this work if I didn't believe that it makes a difference. For example, we do have students that have had BioEYES who tell us they pursued a science career because of our program. So that is rewarding. It's also fun working with students and seeing how excited they are when their fish have babies, for example. Or to see their wonder when they witness how the embryos are growing. And during my time with BioEYES I've taken kids on a lot of hikes in the woods within Baltimore City. I love watching them transform from never having been in the woods and being afraid and uncertain of what it will be like, to running on a trail with a smile on their face or squealing when I put an earthworm in their hand for the first time. Who wouldn’t want a job like that?!

Do you prefer one breed of Zebrafish over the others?

I love animals so I like all breeds of zebrafish. If I had to pick one, it would be the long fin zebrafish. They are elegant, beautiful and it's meditative to watch them swim around, with their long, yellow-colored fins trailing as they move.

When not teaching or working with fish, what are some of your hobbies?

I enjoy bicycling, hiking, roller skating, dancing, genealogy, reading, and volunteering. I am lucky to have a rich social life too, so there are always dinner parties and gatherings to host or attend.

When getting away, where do you like to go?

I love to travel. I have bicycled across the U.S. and Ontario, Canada. For that trip I had a general direction, but each day was mapped out on the spot and it was fun to make it up as I went along. I also travel to do genealogy, which doesn't usually mean I'm going somewhere exciting but instead to small towns in rural America where places like Biscuit World is your only option for breakfast, lunch AND dinner! My next trip, however, will be to Ireland.

What is one thing most members of the BioEYES community don't know about you?

I hated science in school! I think I had some poor teachers and struggled as a result. When I went back to school to get my biology degree I remember one physics teacher in particular that completely changed my mindset about that subject such that I loved physics and thrived in his classes. Teachers' enthusiasm for what they're teaching is so important! But if I had to do it over again I probably would have pursued a degree in animal behavior research instead of molecular biology.

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