A 2002 graduate of Southwestern, Stephanie Braccini Slade is currently Curator of Mammals at Zoo Atlanta, where she oversees the captive care, management and welfare of nearly 50 different mammal species including giant pandas, behavior and endocrine research, conservation efforts of endangered species, and a staff of animal keepers, lead keepers, and an assistant curator.

 With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in biology, Stephanie went on to earn a master’s degree at California State University, San Marcos, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, all while interning with the Section of Behavioral Care and Enrichment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Veterinary Sciences Division in Bastrop, Texas.

 Even though she loved working with chimpanzees at M.D. Anderson, Stephanie always wanted to work with multiple species of great apes from more of an educational point of view. Her dream came true when the Zoological Manager of Great Apes position became available at the Saint Louis Zoo, where she worked for five years before going to Zoo Atlanta.

 Described by friends and colleagues as vibrant, confident, intelligent, compassionate and a “bright light,” a former teacher and mentor adds that Stephanie is focused, dedicated and committed not only to her career but also to the animals themselves. This same mentor also says of Stephanie, “She is one of best students I’ve ever had.”

 Her current supervisor at Zoo Atlanta says, “I had not met Stephanie before she interviewed, but I knew of her through her extensive reputation in the ape conservation and management professional community.” An active member of American Society of Primatologists, Stephanie was specifically recruited for the Curator of Mammals position. “I am very happy that I convinced her to apply,” says her supervisor. “She is whip-smart, super-competent and funny … and there is no greater compliment from me, than to be called funny!”

 The concepts and principles Stephanie used in developing ape programs in St. Louis are proving directly applicable to her new role in Atlanta, and she is rapidly developing programs to take the zoo’s efforts in elephant, giant panda, and other high-profile and endangered species to the next level.

 Her supervisor says that Stephanie is already giving her complete peace of mind about the future progress and growth of Zoo Atlanta’s mammal management programs, scientific programs, and conservation programs. “She has also brought laughter and fun to our meetings, and that’s critically important to the kind of institution I am trying to lead,” she says.

 “Although Stephanie is brilliant,” says one friend, “she doesn’t behave like she knows everything. She admits when she doesn’t know something and seeks out information from someone who does.” That said, the same friend shares that Stephanie has educated her not only on primates and other mammals, but also on things like the detriments of palm oil usage and deforestation.

 At her core, Stephanie is a teacher, says a close friend and fellow Southwestern alumna. “She is caring and patient with those curious about her work. She is tenacious and steadfast in her efforts to advocate for animals and their environments, as well as confident and bold in her approach to education and conservation. She shares her knowledge and passion with those around her and it is contagious!”

 However, Stephanie isn’t always working or teaching. In just three short months being in Atlanta, she has already become an integral part of her neighborhood, organizing potlucks and fun neighborhood gatherings.

 Those close to her say that the same attributes that make Stephanie a consummate professional in her field are also what make her an amazing friend. “She is part psychologist, always there to help support and process life’s biggest moments; part anthropologist, ever aware of the societal and cultural components that test our resolve; part relationship conservationist, doing everything that is necessary to maintain friendships across time and distance; and part academic, someone who researches those things unknown and freely shares that knowledge with those around her.”

These are just some of the reasons that Stephanie Braccini Slade is the 2015 recipient of The Association of Southwestern University Alumni Distinguished Professional Award, which is presented annually to Southwestern alumni who have performed exceptional civic and/or professional services in a given geographic area or field of endeavor.