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Embracing the Non-Traditional | An Interview With An Idealist

Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

A photograph of David Bier, Idealist's Social Media Specialist, in college graduation attire on top of a bright blue background with illustrations of flowers, trees, yellow hands, and an LGBTQ+ flag.
Illustration by Marian Blair

We think it’s time to introduce you to a few more members of the Idealist family and give you an opportunity to learn from (and ask questions about!) their unique professional, academic, and personal journeys through the social-impact space. 

That’s why this month, we’re excited to share the story of an idealist who is near and dear to all of our hearts! Meet David Bier, Idealist’s Social Media Specialist.

If you follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or LinkedIn, you’ll definitely recognize David as Idealist’s social media expert-in-residence. What you may not know is that David brings with him an incredibly varied personal, academic, and professional background.

Read on to learn more about David’s work in LGBTQ+ advocacy, his non-traditional education path, and his social-impact career.

Tell us a bit about where you come from, personally, academically, and professionally.

I grew up in a rural part of northern Michigan in a family that was not accepting of my sexuality. Of course, this set some extremely difficult barriers (to all sorts of things) for me from an early age. It had always been a dream of mine to be the first in my family to attend college, but due to financial challenges paired with lack of family support, my goal seemed out of reach. Instead, I kept myself busy pursuing work and travel instead of an undergraduate degree.

Did you have a plan or specific long-term goal in mind when you first started on your career journey?

Not really. All I knew was that I wanted to get out of my small town and experience new people, places, and opportunities. I had an itch to expand my horizons, and I hadn’t given up entirely on my dream to go to college; I had a gut feeling I would eventually make it happen. 

When did you first realize that you were interested in working in the social-impact sector?

There were a few key moments and experiences that encouraged me to pursue social impact. First, in 2015 while I was employed at Starbucks, they announced their College Achievement Plan, a partnership with Arizona State University that offered full tuition reimbursement for online undergraduate degrees. It was such a huge relief; I was so happy that I sobbed! Getting this amazing opportunity really made me want to give back and help remove barriers for others.

I also have to admit that I was totally inspired by Leslie Knope when she quoted Theodore Roosevelt in Parks and Recreation, “ hard at work worth doing.”

In 2016, I moved to Salt Lake City, UT and managed to balance full-time school and two part-time jobs: Starbucks and a part-time support role with the nonprofit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I became quite good at staying organized and balancing many demands.

I eventually landed an internship in the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, which turned into the full-time appointed position of Communications and Content Manager, and it really changed my world! It was that transformative opportunity that made me decide to leave Starbucks and their tuition program (opting to continue my education through student loans instead) and focus on real-world working experience in the mayor’s office.

How has your work in the social-impact sector allowed you to continue to be the advocate (and the personality!) that you are?

My personal experience with academic and financial barriers has made me more empathetic and caring to those who deal with similar circumstances. I’m also deeply passionate about LGBTQ+ rights, given where I come from and having had to build my own chosen family.

My combined experiences sparked a curiosity and desire to try to make the world a better place in many different ways, and hopefully find out which one I enjoyed the most! From the halls of Congress and local government to numerous nonprofits each with an inspiring mission, I feel blessed to have had such varied experiences that have helped me grow as a social-impact professional. I feel that every experience was a useful stepping stone along my path to find the synergy between what makes me happy, supporting myself, and making a positive impact.

What advice would you give to somebody who is considering (or is perhaps already on) what some consider a “non-traditional” education journey?

Trust yourself and have confidence you’re on the right path; it may twist and turn as you grow and experience new things, but it will ultimately lead you to where you’re the happiest and most fulfilled version of yourself. 

And remember, a non-traditional education journey can give you so many opportunities and experiences; embrace the freedom of it all by trying new things, meeting new people, and courageously seeking out opportunities to try, fail, learn, and grow.

Finally, I’d say that everyone could benefit from building a network of trusted friends, colleagues, and mentors; they will be an invaluable support system.

What is the best part of working in the social-impact sector?

It’s so rewarding to see our impact when somebody lands their dream social-impact job, or a community finds the volunteers they need, or neighbors come together to make a local change. I feel so lucky to have a career where my personal values align so closely with the work that I get to do every day.

What are your favorite social-impact resources or tools? Any recommendations?

I may be biased, but I’m a huge fan of Idealist’s Career Advice blog. Each article offers smart, simple, and practical tips to help level up your professional career. I remember using it for resume and cover letter advice even before joining Idealist! Two of my favorite articles include Resources for Job Seeking in Difficult Times and LGBTQ+ in the Workplace | Should You Come Out to Your Co-workers? 

I’m also a huge fan of Impact on Instagram. They offer digestible social-impact content in a way that captures your attention and keeps you up to date on what’s going on in the world. 

What’s next for you?

Moving forward, I hope to continue to grow professionally as a social media expert in the social-impact space while I also continue to grow as an LGBTQ+ leader in the social media marketing space. And of course, I plan to keep radiating positivity and the message that life is meant to be fun!


Pursuing a job in the social-impact sector without a college degree? It's possible! Check out our blog post on building a career that fits your passion, experience, and long-term goals.

Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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