Reporting on the Great Elephant Census, Allison Tourville stands in a truck, photographing a wild herd near Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.

When asked where she sees herself in 10 years, Allison Tourville, ’07 MA ’11, responds that, with the speed at which digital media changes, that question is unknown. But thanks to her Ball State education, she feels equipped to carry herself confidently in any direction life takes her.

With both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history, Allison works for Seattle-based Vulcan, Inc. Led by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, Vulcan is described as an “incubator for fledgling technology, ambitious global campaigns and new philanthropic efforts.”

Of her time at Vulcan, Allison said, “I’ve jumped from elephants to sunken ships to music festivals to the world’s largest airplane (by wingspan). There is truly no other place where you can get this level of diversity in the type of content you’re creating and type of stories you’re telling, outside of straight up news.”

Since being hired as a writer/editor for Vulcan in 2014, she’s received two promotions, becoming senior digital media strategist this year. “I spend my time crafting and delivering the stories and messages to promote all the different Vulcan projects,” Allison said. “This includes lots of research and lots of writing — which I was more than prepared for thanks to my history degrees from Ball State.”

Counting elephants

Among her projects, Allison led social communication strategies for the Great Elephant Census. Spearheaded by Vulcan, it was the first-of-its-kind count of elephant populations in 18 African countries.

Allison meets an elephant

In Botswana, Allison meets one of the elephants counted for the Vulcan-led census. Results revealed an alarming population decline.

“Being the history nerd I am, I dove into the research and got to know the digital space and the audience we wanted to reach and learned everything I could about the history of conservation and poaching in Africa,” said Allison.

Her coverage included a trip to Africa where she visited with “some of the folks conducting the surveys over there as we prepared to share the story with the press and the world. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

As she wrote on the project’s blog, “Counting elephants isn’t easy. The tiny plane flies back and forth in intense heat for hours on end, while human spotters rely only on their eyes and sometimes a digital camera as backup.”

Results from those efforts revealed an alarming population decline of 30 percent since 2007 – largely due to poaching. The Vulcan census has inspired both non-government and government agencies to coordinate long-term conservation plans to save the African elephant from extinction.

A mind for history

Dr. Abel Alves, chairperson of the Department of History in the College of Sciences and Humanities, said Allison’s work is a great example of the applicability of a history degree.

“As a discipline, history trains people to take disparate pieces of evidence, find corroboration, and construct the narrative that makes sense from that evidence,” he said.

“It trains individuals to find the truth in the midst of different perceptions and interpretations. … This is important to NGOs, the corporate world, detectives, and insurance claims investigators. Historians also learn to write up their findings, and, in this day and age, to take the natural as well as the cultural environment into account.”

Allison credits Ball State history professors for doing “such a great job of turning me into a confident writer. I definitely honed my technical writing skills under the red pen of Dr. Nicole Etcheson and Dr. Abel Alves.

“I would encourage anyone who loved the research and writing aspect of their history degree, but isn’t continuing in academia, to look at digital media as a good fit for them.”

Allison touches down Tanga, Tanzania

Allison touches down Tanga, Tanzania. She said the history faculty prepared her well for such experiences, helping her grow into a more confident person.

The Fishers, Indiana, native traces her interest in history to a family vacation in 2000. “We were in Ixtapa during the Vincente Fox election, and I was fascinated by the public interaction with politics that was going on in all these public spaces in a way I had never experienced in the states. I really started getting into Mexican history at that time.”

For her undergraduate thesis, Allison analyzed Miguel Hidalgo and his connection to the Mexican War of Independence. Her graduate degree focused primarily on Latin America and U.S.–Mexican border history. In 2009, she traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, with other graduate students from around the country studying Latin American history.

These kinds of college experiences, she said, helps women like her “build more confidence in their own abilities. Women will carry that confidence into their career where, once again, you present your original thoughts, justify them, accept constructive criticism, push back when it’s wrong, and prove your expertise.

“The faculty in the history department were excellent about fostering this, they pushed me, and demanded excellence, and helped me grow into a more confident person. They prepared me for the time when I got to be the expert.”

Loving Seattle

Allison counts living in Seattle among the perks of her job at Vulcan. “I love Seattle so much. It’s got this rich urban spirit that you want in a big city, but is totally surrounded by water and mountains. I live on an island off the coast of Seattle now, and commute in by water taxi. … Sometimes I see whales on my commute — it’s the best ride to work ever.”

Allison interviews scientists

Allison interviews scientists testing autonomous drones in the Puget Sound before they head to Antarctica to explore below ice shelves.

Her average workday, she says, includes “a stand up each morning with other branches of communications like PR, internal communications, and design, and we all work hand-in-hand so that everything is integrated.

“You have to be nimble, because we basically function as our own newsroom and the speed of information dissemination means you may need to create content around something that comes up. … My team are a crew of some of the smartest people ever, the projects are so exciting, and the breadth of content I get to work with is massive, both in diversity and sometimes in literal scale.”

For example, this past summer, she led social media strategy for the second annual Upstream Music Fest + Summit in Seattle.

“It was a three straight days on my feet capturing and distributing the content from this big, sprawling festival that stretched for several blocks to all sorts of venues, so it was a lot of coordinating with all my photographers to make sure we didn’t miss anything,” Allison said. “It was wild and fun, but I was also seven months pregnant during it, so it was definitely exhausting.”