Making Her Own Way: Stephanie Newton ‘08

Making Her Own Way: Stephanie Newton ‘08

Stephanie stands behind a glacier in New Zealand

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Stephanie Newton pronounces her temporary home “Mell-bun,” the same way Aussies refer to “Melbourne.” Do as the Romans do, right? Stephanie’s roamin’, all right—and has been since she left home in Birmingham, AL, at 18.

“I still pinch myself that I’m really doing this,” the 2008 Converse alumna says via Skype from Down Under, where she’d recently watched a koala cross the road.

She caught the travel bug at Converse. From a January Term in the Galapagos to solo trips in Africa and South and Central America, she has worked, among internships and jobs, as a zookeeper in Omaha, NE, and her hometown. At Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida, she taught conservation. After four months at an organic farm in New Zealand, she soon moved to Australia.

So far, she has jumped out of an airplane, splashed with sea lions, and once broke her arm looking for an endangered bird. The 32-year-old “bird nerd,” with a summa cum laude degree in Biology, was hiking alone in search of a kokako, found only in New Zealand. Within 10 minutes, she saw one. Then she wiped out crossing a stream.

“I figured out how to tie a sling with my jacket, hiked back up the trail, got in my car, and drove one-handed back to town.” Stephanie continues exploring ways to make travel a science. “I have experience in zoology and nearly eight years in travel sales and planning. To be able to plan and lead worldwide excursions, particularly educational ventures, would be the ultimate goal.” She credits much of her resourcefulness to Converse, where she was a Community Adviser and vice president of the synchronized swimming club, among other roles.

“I really thrived at Converse. I was this scared high school kid that needed a place that would give me those opportunities to grow.”

“I really thrived at Converse. I was this scared high school kid that needed a place that would give me those opportunities to grow. If I had gone to a place with thousands of other people, I would have let myself fade into the background. Converse doesn’t let you do that.”

She also credits her parents, Patricia and Steven, who stayed in Birmingham through their 38 years of marriage.

“Stephanie spent her childhood in her room reading until she started playing volleyball in high school,” says Patricia, a church secretary, and organist. Image of Stephanie standing on a mountaintop in New Zealand“Converse being what Converse is, a woman’s college, she just got all kinds of leadership roles, and she embraced it.”

Biology Professor Dr. Edna Steele calls her onetime advisee “one of the most motivated students I know,” a good-humored, intelligent woman who “never settles for a mediocre job.” Next goal: Southeast Asia.

“Honestly, I love this lifestyle and want to stay on the move for the foreseeable future and I’m currently working on ways to do that.”

She packs lightly, carrying optimism. “If it doesn’t work out, cool: Change the dream. Don’t stop dreaming. It’s OK to move on to something else. It makes life a lot less scary if you give yourself backup plans, knowing everything will work out.”

Originally published in The Converse Magazine.