Web developer turned anthropology professor

Angela Kirwin wraps her arm around a human skeleton model at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., on March 13, 2020. Photo by Peter Villafane.

Angela Kirwin had no plans to return to the classroom after receiving her business marketing degree from San Diego State University. Instead, she worked as a web developer for the outdoor gear company Patagonia, which has a company mission of helping grassroots environmental nonprofits. 

But then she met primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, who Patagonia had invited to speak to the employees. 

Kirwin was inspired by Goodall and got approval from the Jane Goodall Institute to help them redesign their new website as part of an Enviro Internship offered by Patagonia for long-time employees that would pay employees their salary while they volunteered for an environmental nonprofit.

“After being in Washington D.C. and being around young people who wanted to make the world a better place, I thought this is it,” Kirwin said. “I want to make the world a better place and I want to work for a nonprofit.”

Before the Enviro Internship and while working at Patagonia, she and her husband started a nonprofit called Kirwin International Relief Foundation, after they barely survived the tsunami disaster in Thailand in December 2004. 

Kirwin wanted to pursue a career in anthropology and knew she needed to get a master’s degree to be taken seriously, so she attended California State University, Northridge.

When Kirwin was in her last year of grad school, she decided to switch to teaching. She passed her comprehension exams at CSUN, which helped her learn the basics of the three fields of anthropology: archeology, biological and cultural. 

Her first teaching job was at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, where in 2018 she met anthropology professor Kia Atsales. 

“She’s very committed, with lots of students, lots of jobs—it’s really amazing to see that,” Atsales said. “I don’t know how many people you’ll ever run into in your lifetime who cares so much about what they do.”

In 2015, Kiriwn, now 50, started to teach full time.

“It was the perfect time because my kids were 16 and 18 when I started teaching and I was so used to having teenagers at my house, going to work was more fun,” Kirwin said.  

Also in 2018, she began her career at Pierce College when she taught a Human Biological Evolution class. 

Jose Montanez, who was her student for Anthropology 101, said Kirwin is a passionate teacher.

“She really does care about each student passing her class,” Montanez said. “Whenever I had a quick question, she would quickly answer it and make sure I was right on track.” 

Kirwin said that she won’t be switching gears any time soon. She hopes to continue teaching for the rest of her life.

“I wish I realized how much I loved teaching,” Kirwin said. “If not college students, then I would be a tutor or something in that realm.”