Avani Shah goes from JPL to JPEGs


Photo credit: Maya Wernick

Avani Shah sits at her desk. When she is not sitting at her desk like she is here, Shah can be found taking photos around school, or observing different classes to see what is going on around campus. Archer is the second all-girls school that Shah has worked at.

Though Communications and Strategic Marketing Manager Avani Shah can often be found behind the camera at school events, snapping the photos that get featured on all of Archer’s social media accounts, her career journey started light-years away.

Few people know that when Shah was the age of the students she photographs, she was an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While Shah’s life is now dedicated to project management and content writing, for many years she was headed in another direction: all the way into space.

“From a very young age, I was, and I still am, fascinated by space. I think it’s the coolest thing; I’m a total nerd about it,” Shah said. 

Shah attended North Carolina State University, intending to be an aerospace engineering major so that she could eventually become an astronaut. But, as she was completing her sophomore year, Shah had a change of heart.

“The astronaut program is incredibly competitive. You have to be selected for it, you have to go through intensive training and then you go to space twice, maybe three times,” she said. “[That is] wonderful, and the coolest thing ever, but then the rest of your life you’re an engineer. You’re at a desk doing engineering work.”

Shah realized that she did not want to dedicate her life to engineering work, she truly just wanted to go to space.

After having an “existential crisis” her sophomore year, Shah went to her college counselor to ask for advice. Shah still had an internship at NASA and a job waiting for her when she graduated.

“[My counselor] said something that always stuck with me. She said “For the rest of your life, nine to five, you are going to be doing your job. Not your parents, not your siblings, not your spouse — it’s you. So if you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re going to be miserable. And you can’t be a full person if you’re unhappy.”

Shah decided to leave the aerospace engineering program and go into writing. She graduated college with bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in language, writing and rhetoric.

“When I freak out and don’t know what to do, I write,” she said. 

After graduating, Shah worked at a publishing house, but realized that she needed to work somewhere where she was passionate and would be facilitating a larger goal as opposed to focusing on finance.When she decided to transition careers, her passion for education guided her to her next job.

Shah went to work at Ravenscroft, a grade school, where she was the digital communications director. Shah ran social media, started a blog and contributed to the school’s magazine. Her success at Ravenscroft got her an invitation to speak at a conference, where she was scouted and offered the assistant director position at The Columbus School for Girls.

“This was a huge career leap for me. I was fresh out of college, doing the best possible job that I could do.  I was able to explore different avenues all while supporting the mission of this great educational institution,” Shah said. “When Columbus School for Girls approached me with this position, I knew it would be the correct next step but it was scary.” 

After working at The Columbus School for Girls for six months, Shah’s boss took another job, leaving her to take on more responsibilities.

“A lot of it was fun but it was exhausting, maddening and crazy,” Shah said. “I learned a lot, but the biggest thing I learned was how to say no. Because eventually you come to a point where you’re like, ‘I physically cannot do [this] anymore for my own well-being.'” 

Along with this, Shah learned the importance of taking care of her mental health. Once she adapted to this mindset, she and her husband decided to make the move from Ohio to California for his job. And after working in “Corporate America” in California for a few months, she decided it was time to go back to education, which brought her to Archer.

“Archer was on my radar; it’s a nationally recognized school and it has an incredible program that other people look up to,” Shah said. “When there was a position available, I applied and gave it my all so now I’m here and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve worked in three different schools and a college and nothing is like working at Archer.” 

From astronauts to Archer, Shah has had a variety of jobs throughout her life, but said that she does not believe her careers have shaped her, but what truly has is the journey she has taken to get here.

“I don’t think my career has necessarily helped shape who I am, I think that happens because of everything together,” Shah said. “But I love it here and I am so very fortunate to have this job.”