AZA News Releases

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Announces 2022 Executive Leadership Development Program Candidates

Ten outstanding professionals are selected for the eighth cohort.

Silver Spring, MD (January 20, 2022) – Ten talented aquarium and zoo professionals were selected for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP), which is now in its eighth year. The goal of ELDP is to develop executive talent and leadership for individuals who demonstrate the ability and interest to advance to the role of Director within an AZA-accredited facility in the next five years.

Following an extensive candidate selection process, AZA is excited to announce the 2022 AZA ELDP cohort, which consists of the following individuals:

  • RoxAnna Breitigan, Director of Animal Care – Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
  • Hollie Colahan, Vice President of Living Collections - Birmingham Zoo
  • Alistair Dove, Vice President of Science and Education - Georgia Aquarium
  • Jennifer Driban, SVP/Chief Mission Officer - National Aquarium
  • Charles Hopper, Chief Operating Officer - Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Bob Lee, Associate Director - ABQ BioPark
  • Bonnie Mendoza, Chief Operating & Financial Officer - Phoenix Zoo | Arizona Center for Nature Conservation
  • Luis Padilla, DVM Dipl. ACZM, Vice President, Animal Collections - Saint Louis Zoo
  • Dave Ruhl, Vice President of Operations and Campus Planning - Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Mandi Schook, Ph.D., Science Operations Director - Disney's Animals, Science and Environment

"Leadership matters, and any community that claims status as a ‘profession’ makes leadership development a priority, which is precisely why we created the Executive Leadership Development Program," said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. "ELDP participants are committed to the advancement of the zoological profession through personal growth and development of leadership capacities. In 2022, we have another exceptional and exceptionally diverse class, who will bring their unique experiences to the program, helping AZA to develop those who will lead our community in the future."

The focus of ELDP is on the development of executive competencies, or the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to be most effective in the role of a zoo or aquarium director. The competency model emphasizes three tiers that include:

  1. Executive Leadership Behaviors, which define the heart and values of an effective leader and the leadership approach to Inspire, Model, Challenge, Enable, Encourage others to deliver on the facility's mission.
  2. Executive Focus, which defines skills and knowledge needed to sustain a viable institution, be an effective executive participant in AZA forums and advance the mission.
  3. Executive Oversight for Zoo/Aquarium Operations, which defines the skills and knowledge needed to provide executive oversight for the operations at the Institutional level.

A variety of experience-based learning methods are used to develop the key competencies program developers have identified as necessary to influential directors. Participants will also benefit from leader and mentor relationships and build competency through on-the-job training and shadowing opportunities.

"We are so excited to welcome a new ELDP cohort," said Amy Rutherford, Director of Professional Development and Education at AZA. "This year, we had enormous interest in the program, with far more applicants than available spots, which is a testament to its worth. So far, 20 ELDP graduates have become directors of AZA-accredited facilities, with many more moving into other leadership positions. This program is an incredible opportunity for these professionals to gain experience and develop relationships with current executives and leaders in the AZA community."

The development of this custom program, which launched in 2014, was a collaborative effort between the AZA Board of Directors, top executive consultants, and many current zoo and aquarium executives. The kick-off session for the 2022 class program was held virtually in December. The first in-person work session will be at the AZA Directors' Policy Conference on January 31 and February 1.

AZA recognizes the need to be proactive in identifying and training its next generation of leaders and remains committed to the executive development of identified senior leaders. Plans continue to be to select a new ELDP cohort each fall for participation in the program the following year. To learn more about ELDP, visit the ELDP webpage.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit


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