ATA’s 2019–2020 School Outreach Contest Winner Goes Virtual

By Molly Yurick

ATA member and active volunteer Giovanna (Gio) Lester, a conference interpreter and an ATA-certified Portuguese>English translator based in Miami, Florida, won a free registration to ATA’s Virtual 61st Annual Conference through ATA’s 2019–2020 School Outreach Contest.

Gio won the contest for her virtual presentation to students from Farmington R7 School in Missouri. She spoke to the 22 students aged 8 to 14 through the school’s language and culture program.

“We’re delighted to present this award to Ms. Lester for reaching out virtually to students from Farmington R7 School,” said ATA President Ted Wozniak. “Now in its 16th year, ATA’s School Outreach Program raises awareness of the role that translators and interpreters play in business, government, health care, technology, and society at large. In today’s global economy, companies and other institutions are realizing the importance of using skilled professional translators or interpreters to communicate their message effectively and successfully to international audiences, avoiding potentially costly and embarrassing mistakes.”

Reaching Students Across the Country

As a passionate veteran of ATA’s School Outreach Program, Gio has a long history of presenting at her daughter’s schools over the years.  Since her daughter is older now, the opportunity to present at these schools doesn’t arise as often. When Gio happened to see that School Outreach Program Coordinator and ATA Director Meghan Konkol was looking for a virtual presenter for an opportunity with Farmington R7 School, she immediately jumped at the chance.

Gio coordinated with teacher Jennifer Aholt for a Zoom presentation in June. She worked closely with Aholt to ensure that the students, their parents, and class chaperones remained focused and could interact with her discussions on languages and cultures expressed through music, clothing, food, literature, and technology.

Gio made the presentation as interactive as possible. Because of the large age range, she had to include activities that all age groups would find interesting. “We played a guessing game, and I conducted a poll and had an active question and answer session running throughout the presentation.”

Gio said a few students were eager to show off their skills in other languages. “I even spoke gibberish with one of the children since it was the only ‘language’ she knew.”

Gio used comic books as a visual way to demonstrate translation and asked questions she hoped would engage the students, including “How many languages are there in the world?” She said the students were really excited about that number and all replied with their best guess. “The students were very curious.”

Gio enjoyed the active participation of the students, and even noted the involvement of some enthusiastic parents.

“I believe that we interpreters and translators break down barriers. And being able to bring people together through language is really…cool!” she said. “I’m glad technology allowed me to do what I could not do in person—it was just perfect for me.”

School Outreach Presentations Open Career Pathways

This was Gio’s first virtual School Outreach presentation. When asked about the advantages of virtual versus in-person presentations, Gio said she values “being able to reach a public I would not otherwise have reached” and “taking the knowledge of these two professions to communities where they are not even offered as such.”

Gio noted that few people in the U.S. or her native country, Brazil, start their higher education studies considering a career in translation or interpreting, and that most people from her generation fell into this career.

“The School Outreach Program is so much more important than people think, especially because it can get people thinking about this career much earlier in life,” Gio said. “ATA has been putting translation and interpreting on the radar of generations of future professionals, and I believe I can help carry that message forward.”

Gio agrees that virtual presentations are a great way to participate in the School Outreach Program from the comfort of your own home office.

“I see no disadvantages other than potential technical issues. Even when we go back to being able to give in-person presentations, online will still be a good format for schools in remote areas,” Gio explained.

A Life Full of Translation and Interpreting

Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Gio fell in love with languages at the very early age of seven. She got her first job at 18 at a travel agency, where her secretarial duties included translating texts and serving as a guide and interpreter for VIP clients. Even though translation was part of her work, she never thought of it as a career option until 1980, when she lost her job and a friend asked for help with a translation. Gio’s first paid translation project consisted of translating a university’s grant request (all 500 pages!) for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation from Portuguese into English.

In 1985, Gio moved to the U.S. She first settled in Margate, Florida, and then moved to the greater Miami area. She enjoys living in a city with such rich culture and loves having friends from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

While Gio currently translates more than she interprets, she prefers interpreting.

“Maybe it’s my Italian side, but I love to speak! Working in the booth is like acting. I need to convey the message and its intensity to those listening in a different language. That’s exciting. Translation is more sedate, and the excitement is usually the deadline,” she explained.

Gio lost her voice in April 2019 and didn’t recover it until November that year. It was during this time that she began picking up more translation clients.

Before losing her voice, Gio used to travel frequently for interpreting projects. “There have been months when I spent only one week at home. I’ve been to North, Central, and South America and Europe,” she said. “Now I look forward to going to Africa, Asia, and Oceania when we can travel again.”

Although Gio hasn’t formally studied translation and interpreting, she feels as if she has after completing many courses, training programs, and webinars. In 2008, she completed a short intensive program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in conference interpreting with a focus on Portuguese. She is currently taking an online class on interpreting technique as a refresher. “I’m taking three classes in Portuguese: comparative law, interpreting, and memoQ basics,” she said.

When it comes to translation, Gio specializes in tourism, banking, investment, finance, legal contracts, and immigration documents—which can vary from news articles to community content for websites and personal documents. When it comes to interpreting, she’s focused on simultaneous interpreting at conferences.

Gio is also the proud mom of two children, and she’s passed on her love of languages to them. “My son, 38, speaks English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian, and my daughter, 25, added French to that mix.”

Don’t Miss Your Opportunity to Make a Difference!  

ATA launched the School Outreach Program in 2004 to educate students about translation and interpreting and to spark interest in these rewarding career fields. Through the program, professional linguists speak to students at all levels, highlighting the career benefits of learning another language and the increasing potential for exciting work for those with language skills. Using a variety of model presentations and activities available on ATA’s website, presenters outline the requirements for becoming a professional translator or interpreter, emphasizing that these careers demand far more than simply being bilingual.

To receive this award, participants must belong to ATA or an ATA chapter or an ATA-affiliated organization and must deliver a presentation for a school of their choice. To learn more about the ATA’s School Outreach Program, visit

Win a Free Registration to ATA62! 2020–2021 School Outreach Contest Now Open!

The 2020–2021 School Outreach Contest is now open! Virtual presentations are eligible for entry into the School Outreach Contest. The winner will receive a free registration to ATA’s 62nd Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota (October 27-30, 2021). For more information, visit


About the Author


Molly Yurick is a Spanish>English translator, subtitler, and copywriter
based in northern Spain. She specializes in tourism and hospitality
translations, and her subtitles can be found on the world’s
largest streaming service. Contact:

1 Responses to "ATA’s 2019–2020 School Outreach Contest Winner Goes Virtual"

  1. Gio Lester says:

    Thank you, ATA Team, for this profile. Obrigada.

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