Meet Mara Rodriguez, the VCCCD 2022 Classified Employee of the Year


Photo Courtesy of Mara Rodriguez

By Sulor Garretson

Zoo Development Coordinator Mara Rodriguez was titled the 2022 Classified Employee of the Year for the Ventura County Community College District and Moorpark College.

This award recognizes and honors community college classified professionals who demonstrate exemplary professional ethics and standards, commitment to the California Community College mission and leadership outside of their local establishment.

Rodriguez has been working for America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College for the past 30 years and was recognized by the VCCCD for her hard work, loyalty and dedication to the zoo and her students. Rodriguez received this title in late March and has felt nothing but gratitude since being honored.

“I’m very honored because after 30 years of hard work pursuing what I love, [this title] not only brings recognition to me but to the zoo as well,” Rodriguez said. “I feel very rewarded.”

VCCCD Board Trustee Diane McKay commented on the impressive nature of Rodriguez’s award.

“Over the years, I have worked with this year’s honorees and have been impressed with their knowledge, expertise and passion for our campuses and the district,” said McKay. “Their commitment serves as a shining example to students, faculty, classified staff and the greater community.”

Rodriguez’s career at America’s Teaching Zoo began in the summer of 1992 as the creator and counselor for their Junior Safari Summer Camp, which has gained popularity over the years. Since then, her wildlife adventures and job opportunities have only grown throughout her 30 years of devotion to the zoo and the college’s Exotic Animal Training and Management program.

Rodriguez expressed how her love for animals and wanting a hands-on job with them led her to America’s Teaching Zoo. Rodriguez always had the option to attend a four-year university like her peers, but this option did not intrigue her as much as the hands-on opportunity she was presented at Moorpark College’s Zoo program.

That was when she decided to embark on her journey and career at the zoo. Six years after graduating with her associate degree, Rodriguez became a lab technician working with different mammals such as Ira the Lion and Bengal tigers Neil and Karma.

With Rodriguez working so closely with these large cats, it earned her the nickname, Big Cat Lady.

“I guess the title fits because for the past 25 years I’ve been introduced to so many incredible, large cats that I’ve been able to raise, work with and train,” Rodriguez said. “It’s ironic because I was never interested in tigers, lions or mountain lions. And now, that’s my specialty.”

As Rodriguez’s career at the zoo flourished, so did her inspiration for Moorpark College students who are enrolled in the Exotic Animal Training and Management program.

First-year Moorpark College student Lacey Antilla commented on how insightful it is to work with Rodriguez every day. According to Antilla, Rodriguez expertly communicates with not only animals but also with individuals.

“She really does know how to communicate with people, and I think that’s her strength,” Antilla said. “Out of all the places she could have chosen to pursue her career because she’s amazing at her job and has an incredible resumé, I’m glad that she chose America’s Teaching Zoo because the students can really learn a lot from her.”

Photo Courtesy of Mara Rodriguez
Photo Courtesy of Mara Rodriguez

In recent years, Rodriguez’s job title has evolved due to her work ethic and continued motivation to maintain and improve the zoo.

Rodriguez’s current job title, which she has held for the past two years, is zoo development coordinator. The responsibilities this position entails include handling fundraising, community outreach, advancements to the zoo and relationships with donors.

As Rodriguez continues to serve in her most recent position, she plans to serve the community and the animals by renovating the zoo with new, modern sanctuaries and architecture that everyone can enjoy.

“I have always loved serving people as much as serving animals in my career,” Rodriguez said. “As I transition to the next phase of my career past animal training, I see my desire to serve the community, as well as the animals, by creating a more modern Zoo that everyone can enjoy and be proud of.”

To see what upcoming events are taking place at the zoo, click here. To stay updated on the different animals and new exhibits at America’s Teaching Zoo, follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

To continue to follow Mara’s journey with the zoo, follow her on Instagram.