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Alona Rivord, Champlin Park High School, Class of 1997, World Wildlife Foundation communications manager

An animal lover since she was a little girl, 1997 Champlin Park High School (CPHS) graduate Alona Rivord has been able to turn her childhood passion into a pretty great career.

Rivord, who spent nearly 11 years as an assignment editor for CNN at its New York and Los Angels offices, now travels the world as the communications manager for the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).

"(I get to travel to all the) amazing places where the animals live," Rivord said. "Nepal, Cameroon, China, Thailand, Kenya, South Africa, Panama … I've been to something like 45 countries."

WWF is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the world, mostly known for its work in saving endangered species.

"(We at WWF) are trying to preserve our world because we depend on it," Rivord, who was a WWF member as a kid, said. "We believe that if species and habitats are well taken care of then we can continue to get what we need from the planet. We try to find ways that people and nature can both thrive."

Rivord began her career journey to WWF as a student in a television production and broadcast journalism class at CPHS in the mid-90s.

"It was an excellent opportunity to try out what would become my first career," Rivord said. "Our ambitions were encouraged, so we left thinking we could go and do whatever we set our determination toward."

Rivord said when she went on to study broadcast journalism at Pepperdine University, her time at CPHS had prepared her for the stresses of the profession.

"When I studied broadcast journalism in college there were many people that dropped out. They thought it was just be fun to be on TV. But it is hard work," she said. "I learned earlier than they did from my time at Champlin Park that I was suited for it.

During her time at CPHS, Rivord said JoEllen Ambrose, who teaches honors social studies, and Susan Browne, a French language teacher, made a lasting impact on her.

"They treated us as peers who had something to contribute. I found that empowering," Rivord recalled. "(It) helped me transition from child to professional knowing I could have intelligent conversation with women like them."

Browne said she wasn't surprised that Rivord's life had taken her on a multicultural adventure.

"She was always interested in other people and cultures, and the idea that other ways of doing things could also be 'right,'" Browne said. "She was eager to use her language skills and to experience other ways of life. … Her willingness to work hard and her open and charming personality have served her well as an adult."

One of the projects Rivord worked on recently was the poaching crisis impacting elephants and rhinos in various countries.

"Spending time with elephant calves that have seen their mothers shot for their tusks makes me quite emotional," she said. "They are so intelligent, many can't recover from the trauma."

Rivord believes her work, and the work of the WWF as a whole, is making a real difference.

"(The WWF works) to persuade policymakers, supporters, partners and others that we have good solutions that will work for them," she said. "We have made a big difference in changing the attitudes of governments about poaching and trafficking. The problem isn't solved; there is a lot of work yet to do, but at least now they care when they didn't before."