To Top

Meet Emma Paunil

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emma Paunil.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve always been a performer, an artist, and an empath – being classically trained as a concert pianist for over 14 years, as well as being heavily involved in many forms of dance for over 12 years (spending sometimes over 40 hours a week in the dance studio), and consistently seeking out theatrical opportunities. First and foremost, however, I had defined myself as, “… a scientist actually. I just do art on the side.” I cannot deny that veterinary medicine was my direction and identity for over a decade of my life. I always wanted to save the animals.

After spending six weeks camping in the desert of Namibia, Africa, I was made aware of two very imperative realities: conservation cannot succeed without also caring for the people, and, that I was highly fond of teaching. I had the pleasure of teaching topics ranging from agriculture, math, science, English, art, and even P.E. at the Epupa Primary school in Namibia. From an informal research project there, I became highly interested in pursuing a deeper study in the role of fears and limitations, emotional intelligence, and our ability to connect with the environment.

Despite being accepted into veterinary school, due to my passion and involvement with education and the thorough dive into acting techniques, I felt strongly pulled towards researching how various modes of artistic expression can actually inspire emotional intelligence and a deeper understanding of the Self and consciousness. At this stage in the development of my identity, I made the choice to professionally pursue acting, and a graduate program through the UA to establish an emotional intelligence program for our young adult scholars.

As an actor, I have landed roles in feature films such as, “Positive,” (directed by Avai d’Amico) where I play the lead character, Autumn, as well as, “The Tiny House Movie.” I have done a fair amount of commercial work now, such as for BetterHelp Online counseling (with Chris Neal). I am now an acting instructor for 9-13-year-old scholars, through Film Actor Workshops – thus-far piloting some of my curriculum ideas for my graduate work in emotional intelligence. As a model, my absolute favorite experiences have been with David Byrd – a nationally renowned photographer and composite artist, where I have had the joy of portraying incredibly fun characters, including an elf-warrior, “Alyndria.”

As soon as I discovered that there is no real divide between art and science – that as entities, they intertwine within each other until they formulate a creation – I began respecting myself as an individual with a plethora of interests. My interests do not define me; I define my interests.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No story worth sharing is a smooth road. I have hiked the pathless mountain (literally and figuratively – the Epupa Primary School scholars took me and the other teacher, Lucas Drake, with them to school every day, for four hours at a time, through mountains… as the short cut); I’ve been through white-water streams with crocodiles swimming by our side; I’ve been chased by men, elephants, coyotes, and my own natural and synthetic fears. The road has been anything but smooth, and I’ve loved every moment of it. After recognizing the more natural, survival-based fears from my time in Namibia (albeit, and I must express that I still had a level of removal from the natural environment, as I have not had the perspective of one who may have spent a lifetime integrated into the space), I began identifying many of my pre-existing “fears” of rejection, failure, change, standing out, as well as feelings of guilt as synthetic, and perhaps more-so as an obsessive neurosis. Overcoming those obsessions (fears) has been a struggle associated with the pursuit of my genuine passions. I am accepting and grateful for where I was and where I am.

Please tell us about your work.
I went over a bit of what I am doing now, and have done, so I suppose I can compose a list of my interests/accomplishments:

– Graduate student establishing research and a program in using acting and artistic techniques to inspire emotional intelligence for young adults

– Professional Film Actor (see website for more info:

– Acting instructor for 9-13-year-old scholars through Film Actor Workshops

– Reid Park Zoo educator: teaching about Wildlife Conservation and methods in saving wild animals and wild places across our world

– Environmental Education Exchange educator: teaching middle school and high school scholars about energy efficiency, conserving natural resources, and renewable resources

– LA Fitness Spin instructor

– Past co-teacher at Imago Dei Middle school with Peggy Solis and Jacob Brainerd: assisted in establishing a “Graduate Support Program” for resume building, professional development, scholarship and application writing, and goal-setting

– Past guest teacher for Epupa Primary School (Namibia, Africa)

– Co-author of Ovarian Toxicology Series (Devine, P., Petrillo, S., Cortvrindt, R., Rasmussen, L., Paunil, E., & Craig, Z. R. (2018) In Vitro Ovarian Model Systems. In: McQueen, C. A., Comprehensive Toxicology, Third Edition. Vol. 4, pp. 517–534. Oxford: Elsevier Ltd.)

– Past VIDA Veterinary volunteer, providing free veterinary care and spay-neuter surgeries to patients in Nicaragua and Costa Rica

How would you describe the type of kid you were growing up?
Growing up, I was home-schooled until High School; I grew up on an 80-acre farm in middle-of-no-where Arizona, on the outskirts of Casa Grande – near “Stanfield, AZ.” I was in 4-H (naturally) and was the “crazy chicken girl,” I hatched my own chickens, ducks, turkeys, tortoises, snakes, and even an emu at one point. I had my own business I created by selling poultry to neighbors and other 4-H’ers. I loved hiking with Dad, where he would teach me all about herpetology and safe animal handling techniques for reptiles. I was a self-proclaimed “Tomboy,” and had nothing against studying classical ballet. One of my fondest childhood memories was following my neighbor’s giant tortoise around while I read my history book so that I could report back to him where she had laid her eggs. One of the scariest memories growing up on the farm was hiking a hill in the desert alone to watch the sunset (the one time I didn’t bring my dog, Zeus), then hearing a pack of coyotes singing… then having to run back home while they chased me. One of my most embarrassing memories was when a skunk sprayed through my open window, all over my school clothes. I slept through the smell, acclimated, and then went to school (high school) to find out that everyone had a headache and was gagging because of ME.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
David Byrd, Vera Maslieva, Lucas Drake, Jack Albert, Emily Gindlesparger

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in