Nancy Miorelli '11 studied biology at Union College before earning a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Georgia. Today, she is the chief visionary officer of her tourism business. SciBugs is based in Ecuador, where Nancy plans, organizes and leads personalized tours for groups and individuals focused on insects, ecology, conservation and local culture. She customizes tour packages (and soon terms abroad programs) specifically for each group and personally escorts participants during their time in Ecuador. This work keeps her involved in local communities. Especially on the western side of Ecuador, much of the forest and jungle is protected privately. Helping to make privately led conservation efforts, and the local communities involved, financially viable inspires her. So, too, does acceptance by residents who are fighting to conserve one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. It has made Nancy realize that small groups and individuals can make a difference – that “we are all stronger when we work together and support each other.” Nancy is also part of an online campaign called Nature Check. She and her team use the fictional world of “Dungeons and Dragons” to talk about ecology, science, scientific culture and scientific history. The campaign talks are live-streamed, allowing audience members to ask questions and receive real-time responses.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
The most challenging part of my job is the organization. All of the moving pieces of a tour in Ecuador are incredibly difficult to organize, plan and manage. I need to know how to match my clients’ interests to the many activities and places in Ecuador. I also need to know the best way to get around the country, as well as how to manage teams of guides, chauffeurs and landowners, and business owners and hotels. Many times, there are cultural and language barriers. My clients often speak little Spanish and many people in Ecuador don’t speak English – I’m the link between them. But one of the most rewarding aspects is when people realize human experiences are the same everywhere. It’s heartwarming to watch my clients and the guides, hosts, drivers and hotel staff connect over shared experiences and a love of nature. It’s also rewarding when clients who were previously wary of insects are holding them by the end of a tour. And it’s empowering when clients think more about conservation and want to help in any way they can to protect our planet.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
To be honest, I never had anyone to look up to who started their own business. I’ve always been inspired by Taylor Swift. She writes all her own songs, she’s the head behind her marketing. She designs her shows down to the costumes. She’s so involved and puts so much of herself into her business, and doesn’t seem to lose herself to it. This is inspiring and it encourages me to be brave even when problems arise, or I don’t feel confident enough to tackle certain situations. John Hall, my professor during a term abroad in Australia, inspired me, too. My senior year at Union, I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. John’s enthusiasm for plants and ecology was infectious. At the end of his class, I wasn’t sure how, but I knew wanted to inspire people to love nature and biology the same way he inspired his students. I hope I’m living up to his legacy.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Don’t lose yourself. Don’t become someone or something else because a supervisor, advisor, family member or partner says you won’t be successful doing what you’re doing. I had an advisor tell me I wouldn’t be successful because I wasn’t good at research. Now I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I swim in bioluminescent plankton and play with giant bugs. I have the most supportive and loving people in my life, and I can share my love of the natural world with clients. The path won’t always clear. Just keep going forward, change paths if you need to, but whatever you choose to try next, know why you’re doing it. Remind yourself of why every day and you won’t lose who you are – even in trying times.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
The term abroad program in Australia was my most formative experience. There’s just something powerful about learning stuff in a book and then getting to see that stuff growing on a tree, or being transformed into a building or being emulated by people. Life is happening outside the classroom – so go look at it.