Power for Good
Wesley Della Volla (American University, 2006) fell in love with storytelling while working in his high school’s TV studio. His passion led him to study visual media at American University in Washington, D.C. where, even as an undergraduate he knew he wanted to use his talents to make a difference in the world.
He began a deliberate civic-minded search for internships where he could use his skills and talent to do more than entertain. His focus on documentaries and journalism led him to apply for an internship with National Geographic. His enthusiasm and drive paid off and after graduation, he was hired for a full-time job with National Geographic.
National Geographic is more than just a magazine or television network. It is one of the oldest and most diverse scientific organizations in the world – the organization has given out over 12,000 grants in its 128-year history. It enables scientist to do work that may not otherwise happen because it invests in the long-term.
“I found a place that I sincerely believe in. It's perfect. It's mission, and the way it treats storytelling and journalism, is very unique in the world. Being a non-profit that has really pushed the boundaries of science and exploration and storytelling for 128 years, it's a place that I want to be a part of and want to help continue that legacy.”
By age 25 Della Volla had the opportunity to work on an Emmy award-winning documentary. He was production manager of National Geographic's Natural History unit—basically production manager for all the animal programming.
His work was high pressure, but he was trusted and he loved what he was doing. “For the project that won the Emmy, at one point I had the United Nations on speed-dial, because I had the team out interviewing rebel generals in Congo, and, if I didn't hear from them, I knew I had to get them help,” Della Volla said.
The sense of responsibility and dedication was important to him, but it was also draining. During this same time in his life, Della Volla’s best friend was facing what would be a year and a half battle with leukemia and he was the primary caregiver.
Facing the loss of his friend and career pressures Della Volla was burned out and needed a change. He began music blogging and eventually became editor in chief of a Grammy affiliated web site. “That really was where I found a new energy, covering musicians, helping cultivate young talent, give them an outlet to grow and try new things, and get people to interact with them, and cultivate a sense of community. Kind of the same thing I was doing as the Delt social chair, was raising awareness, cultivating a community, doing all of these things and really focusing on that, but also producing live events, producing video, editorial content, really taking that broad, media perspective with music,” Della Volla said.
Next Della Volla took his skills to educational media, again trying to establish a purpose beyond entertainment. “Music was wonderful and amazing, and art is important, but it wasn't quite as fulfilling as it could be. I think that's what drove me to do work in education,” Della Volla said.
Today, as producer of global events and experiences for the National Geographic Society Della Volla brings all his career experiences together producing live events for the organization. These events provide a platform for the science National Geographic supports.
“It allows people to connect and engage, and lets people know that National Geographic isn't just a collection of magazines that your grandparents had on their bookshelf. It's live. It's vibrant,” Della Volla said.
He wants to show his generation that what National Geographic does is important, and the people who are part of National Geographic are dynamic, engaging people who really care about the planet. “That sense of empathy is super important and being a global citizen,” Della Volla said.
While he jokes that he’s simply the social chair for National Geographic Della Volla’s role is one that allows people to connect deeply with an organization, a mission and a purpose.
“I believe in stealth education. In that, you're going to have a lot of fun, but you're going to learn something," Della Volla said. “I love the work I do. It's really fun and I would not have been able to do it without my unorthodox career path. In that, each job didn't seem to make sense together, one after the other, but all together, it kind of came together. Now that I do live events, I understand how media plays in it, and storytelling, from being in television.”
Della Volla credits the support and sense of community he found in college, and the type of men that he was around in the Fraternity through his formative years with his ability pursue a unique career. “I think that sense of responsibility to a community and a group really, really kind of showed itself at that time. It was very fortunate that I had such a wonderful group of young men that I could find myself, and be myself, and I never was expected to be anything other than myself with them. They knew I was out. They knew I was gay. It was never an issue. If it was, I was not afraid to stand up to anyone who thought it was an issue.”
In Delta Tau Delta he found values of Truth, Courage, Faith, Power that matched his own. “We believe in truth and courage, and that faith that we can better the world if we work together. That's where real power comes from -- that genuine power for good to change things and have impact,” said Della Volla.