Executive Leadership

Dan Ashe, President and CEO

Dan is the president and chief executive officer of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an organization of more than 230 aquariums, zoos, and science centers. Dan is charged with advancing AZA’s vision, mission, and strategic priorities.
A lifelong animal conservationist, Dan joined AZA in January 2017 after serving as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for nearly six years, successfully leading the agency, and its thousands of employees, during a period of significant challenges. Following a 13-year career as a professional staff member of the former Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dan held positions of increasing responsibility at the Service. They include assistant director for external affairs, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, science advisor to the director and deputy director.
Dan earned a Bachelor's degree in biological science from Florida State University and a graduate degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington, where he studied under a fellowship from the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. His master's thesis, on estuarine wetland mitigation, was published in the Coastal Zone Management Journal in 1982.
Dan’s journey to the greater DC area was made possible by the National Sea Grant College Program. He was awarded a National Sea Grant Congressional Fellowship in 1982.

Craig Hoover, Executive Vice President

Craig comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he had a distinguished 20-year career. He led the USFWS Division of Management Authority, which is the agency's wildlife trade policy and permitting arm, including for CITES, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and other laws. Most recently, he served as the chief of the USFWS Division of International Conservation, directing most of the agency's international wildlife conservation financial assistance programs. 

Craig also worked for the World Wildlife Fund, including as deputy director of TRAFFIC North America. Craig was recently selected by the CITES Parties to chair Committee II of the upcoming CITES COP18. 

Jack Keeney, Jr., General Counsel

Jack is a former partner (1985 - 2011) at the D.C. law firm of then-Hogan and Hartson, where he was AZA’s counsel for almost 20 years. Jack left Hogan and Hartson in 2011 to direct all appeals for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. He is the past president of the 100,000 member D.C. Bar and represented the D.C. Bar in the American Bar Association House of Delegates from 2014 to 2020. Numerous awards include the 2012 Justice Potter Stewart Award from the Council for Court Excellence, the 2013 Outstanding State Chair Award (co-recipient) from the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, and the 2010 Wiley Branton Award from the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

He is on the Boards of both the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Washington Council of Lawyers; he also serves on the Nominations Committee of the National Capital Area ACLU. He is listed in Best Lawyers in America and Who’s Who in American Law, in America, and in the World. He is a 1976 cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a 1973 summa cum laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

Phil Wagner, Chief Financial Officer

Phil manages the financial affairs of the AZA, including budgeting, financial reporting, payroll, IT, and cash management. His goal is to ensure that the AZA staff members have the financial tools they need to achieve their missions while maintaining a secure financial position for the Association.

Phil joined the AZA in December 2011, with over 30 years in accounting, including stints in big four public accounting, retail, telecommunications, and not-for-profit. His career includes 2 ½ years as controller at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

He holds a Bachelor's in accounting from Loyola University in Baltimore and is a Certified Public Accountant.


Denny L. Lewis, M.B.A., Senior Vice President, Accreditation Programs

Denny Lewis has had a career developing and managing certification and accreditation programs primarily in the scientific professions, including the American Institute of Chemists, the National Certification Commission in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, and the Association For The Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.

A native of Washington, DC, he came to AZA in 1998 with a passion for wildlife that began as a child and continued through college, where he majored in business and studied zoology in elective courses. He holds an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland.

Jennifer DiNenna, B.S., Director, Accreditation Programs

Jennifer assists in overseeing the Accreditation and Certification processes, including directing the Visiting Committee selection process, reviewing Visiting Committee Reports, directing and monitoring the incident report process as well as the complaint process, directing the accreditation mentoring program, preparing for accreditation hearings, supporting the Accreditation Commission and counseling inspectors, member institutions and potential applicants as needed.  

A native of Maryland, Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biological life sciences with a concentration in zoology from the University of Maryland. She then obtained a Certificate of Accomplishment from Animal Behavior College. Prior to joining AZA in 2008, Jennifer was a manager of a pet sitting, boarding, and canine daycare facility. She also instructed obedience classes as a professional positive reinforcement canine trainer. Jennifer then decided to follow her passion for exotic animals at AZA.

Cheri Bermudez, B.S., Coordinator, Accreditation Programs

Cheri joined AZA in April of 2015. Her primary responsibilities include acting as the staff contact for accreditation applicants and inspectors, reviewing reports, responding to general inquiries and letters of concern, managing the Accreditation Resource Center, and providing support for all accreditation-related processes.

Cheri earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and policy from the University of Maryland with a concentration in wildlife ecology and management. Before AZA, she worked for several years as a veterinary technician and interned at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center doing behavioral and dietary research with diving ducks.

Animal Care, Welfare & Management 

Candice Dorsey, PhD, Senior Vice President, Conservation, Management and Welfare Sciences

Dr. Candice Dorsey joined AZA in September 2008 and is responsible for overseeing AZA’s cooperatively managed animal programs, and advising and supporting the program leaders and participants of Taxon Advisory Groups, Species Survival Plans® and Studbooks. Candice works closely with the AZA Population and Reproductive Management Centers, the Animal Population Management and Animal Welfare Committees, and several Scientific Advisory Groups. She collaborates with other regional zoological associations and serves as a vice-chair to the WAZA Committee on Population Management, which oversees Global Species Management Plans. Candice also acts as AZA's Conservation Grants Fund (CGF) Science Director and serves as a scientific liaison to other AZA departments and their programs.

Candice earned her BA in biology from St. Mary's College of Maryland and received her MS in conservation biology from American University. She has over 15 years of wildlife research experience, including investigating the developmental stability of the Florida manatee, Western lowland gorilla behavior, population genetics of the black-footed ferret, and giant panda foraging, and was a geneticist/technician for the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum's Department of Systematic Biology. Candice received her Doctorate in environmental science and public policy through a joint program between George Mason University and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (then the Conservation and Research Center) and is an appointed Smithsonian Research Associate. Her Ph.D. research focused on black rhino health and reproductive endocrinology.

Rebecca Greenberg, Director, Animal Programs

Rebecca joined AZA’s Conservation and Science Department in October 2011. She assists with the administration of AZA’s animal programs, including Taxon Advisory Groups, Regional Collection Plans, Species Survival Plans, Studbooks, and Animal Care Manuals. Other responsibilities include preparing and editing reports for publication and maintaining departmental databases and records. She works closely with the Animal Population Management Committee and corresponds with AZA members as well as the general public.

Rebecca has a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Georgia, where she focused on animal behavior studies. She conducted original field research in Brazil on wild capuchin monkey tool-use and published her study in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Megan Brown, PhD, Director, Population Management Strategy

Dr. Megan Brown joined AZA's Conservation and Science Department in February 2020. In her role as the director of population management strategy, Megan works closely with the Animal Population Management (APM) Committee and the Aquatic Collection Sustainability Committee (ACSC) to help move their initiatives forward. This will include analyzing regional and global population data as they relate to population sustainability, analyzing institutional collection planning data and trends, and advising AZA facilities in master and collection planning.

Megan received her PhD from the University of Maryland with her dissertation on biology and reproduction in cranes. For the past few years, she has been a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and during her time there she has been researching reproduction and stress responses in managed avian species. Megan's research has resulted in validation of non-invasive hormone monitoring in numerous species, linking behaviors to specific hormonal cues, designing naturalized enclosures to promote egg production, developing lab-based assessments for male fertility, and using ultrasonography to characterize ovarian function. She is also a Conservation Grant Fund (CGF) and ASAG Conservation and Research Grant awardee.

Matthew Krcmarik, M.S., Program Assistant, Animal Programs

Matthew joined AZA’s Conservation, Management, and Welfare Science department in October 2021. His role as program assistant supports AZA’s animal programs, including Species Survival Plan programs, Taxon Advisory Groups, and studbooks. He also manages the Animal Programs Database and SSP Sustainability Database and Search Portal. Matthew maintains communication with animal program leaders, institutional liaisons, institutional representatives, and the staff of AZA Population Management and Reproductive Management Centers. Additionally, he assists the Animal Population Management Committee and the Aquatic Collections Sustainability Committee. 

Matthew earned his B.S. in fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University and received his M.S. in environmental science and policy at George Mason University. Matthew conducted his graduate research at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), assessing potential health risks associated with infertility in African elephants. He continued on at SCBI, serving as the endocrinology technician where he focused on characterizing reproductive hormones of female Andean bears under human care in North America. 


Shelly Grow, M.S., Vice President, Conservation and Science

Shelly promotes and supports AZA member participation in conservation and works closely with the Field Conservation and Research and Technology Committees, and the Green Scientific Advisory Group.

Shelly is responsible for overseeing SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction and advising and supporting program leaders and participants. She also oversees the grants program under the Conservation Grants Fund and the field conservation, research, and green (sustainable) practices surveys related to the Annual Report on Conservation and Science. She currently serves on the Joint National Steering Committee for Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. Shelly began working at AZA in 2003 and served as the program coordinator for the Butterfly Conservation Initiative until 2007.

Shelly received a B.A. in cross-cultural environmental studies from Grinnell College and an M.S. in sustainable development and conservation biology from the University of Maryland – College Park. 

Gillian Cannataro, Program Assistant, Conservation Programs

Gillian joined AZA's Conservation and Science Department in November 2020. She provides support, maintains databases, and answers inquiries for AZA’s conservation programs and processes including SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction, Conservation Grants Fund, and SAFE Granting Program, and FrogWatch USA. She is also responsible for reviewing survey data and publications related to the field conservation, research, and green (sustainable) practices sections of the Annual Report on Conservation and Science.

Gillian graduated from Florida Atlantic University in August 2019 with a B.S. in biological sciences, and an honors designation in biological science research for her behavioral ecology and bioacoustics work with songbirds. 


Rob Vernon, M.B.A., Senior Vice President, Communications and Strategy

Rob Vernon is responsible for overseeing all communications functions of the AZA, including media, internal communications, and public opinion polling. He also serves as the main spokesperson for the Association and is the AZA staff liaison to the Public Relations Committee and Trends Committee. Rob also leads the public engagement and cction efforts for AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction.

Prior to joining AZA, Rob worked at two international public relations firms, developing public affairs communications and public policy strategies for a variety of corporate, government, and non-profit clients. Before joining the private sector, he held senior positions with several state and federal elected officials, on political campaigns, and at a trade association, and a political youth-focused non-profit.

Rob earned his M.B.A. from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and his Bachelor's in political science from Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Tim Lewthwaite, M.A., Director, Publications and Brand

Tim joined AZA as publications and branding manager in September of 2004. He is responsible for producing AZA's Connect magazine and ensures that the Association’s style guide is used across all AZA print and electronic publications. Tim produces Insight, the monthly e-newsletter to AZA’s membership, and is in charge of all graphics and branding for the Association.

Tim has a Master's  in professional writing from Towson University.

Kristen Corl, Coordinator, Digital Media

Kristen joined AZA in July 2017 to support AZA's digital efforts, including managing AZA's social media and website. Prior to joining AZA, Kristen managed the marketing and development activities for the Emerald Coast Science Center in Northwest Florida. She also has experience in marketing and design with other non-profits and the hospitality industry. 

Kristen earned a Bachelor’s in media studies from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. 

Karlyn Marcy, Program Assistant, Communications

Karlyn joined AZA in May 2020 to help support AZA’s communications efforts. Prior to joining AZA, she interned and worked at Walt Disney World Resort in the Public Affairs department and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in a variety of in-park and office conservation education and communications roles.

Karlyn graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in public relations and minor in sustainability studies. While in college, she interned on the communications teams at the UF Office of Sustainability, the Gulf Coast Humane Society, and Gainesville Regional Utilities.  

Government Affairs

Steve Olson, M.S., Senior Vice President, Government Affairs

Steve became director of government affairs in March 2000. The Government Affairs Department represents the interests of AZA before Congress and federal agencies. The department monitors federal legislation and regulations, analyzes the impact of bills and regulations on AZA members and develops position recommendations with the Government Affairs Committee and the AZA Board of Directors, supplies information on legislation and regulations to its member institutions, and works with government officials on developing effective federal legislation, regulations, and partnerships.

Steve received his B.S. and M.S. in wildlife management from Colorado State University. In 1987, Steve began work for the U.S. House of Representatives' Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. Steve has also worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the project manager for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the National Coastal Resources Institute as its executive director.

Jennifer Keaton, M.A., Vice President, Congressional Affairs

Before joining the AZA, Jennifer Keaton was legislative director for Representative Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), where she supervised the legislative staff and handled issues including appropriations, health care, transportation, and foreign affairs.

From January 2001 through June 2009, Jen worked for Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-14) in several capacities, including Senior Legislative Assistant and Acting Legislative Director. During her time in Representative Maloney’s office, Jen worked on several initiatives that were signed into law, including “The Debbie Smith Act,” which addressed the backlog in processing DNA evidence. She also served as the Congresswoman’s staffer for the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and served as the principal staffer for the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, the Human Trafficking Caucus, and the Americans Abroad Caucus.

Jen’s government career began in 2000 when she was hired by Representative Ron Klink (PA-04) as a legislative aide.

Jen received her undergraduate degrees in political science and international service and her Master's in international affairs from American University in Washington, DC.   

Ashley Zielinski, Director, Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership

Ashley currently manages the Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership (ZAHP), a USDA-funded collaborative program dedicated to providing resources for enhancing preparedness and resiliency to all hazards that may impact facilities caring for exotic animals and wildlife. She works closely with the AZA Animal Health and Safety Committees as well as stakeholders from other zoological associations, state and federal agencies, and NGOs active in animal preparedness and response.  Ashley promotes and supports initiatives aimed at increasing resiliency to disease events, natural disasters, and other emergencies that may impact zoological institutions.

Ashley joined AZA in February 2015 as program support for this initiative, then known as the ZAHP Fusion Center.  She has a B.A. in international studies from American University, with a concentration in environmental policy and development. 

Haley Randall, Program Assistant, Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership

Haley is responsible for supporting the ZAHP, a USDA-funded collaborative program dedicated to resources for enhancing preparedness and resiliency to all hazards that may impact facilities caring for exotic animals.

Haley joined AZA in April 2021. Prior to joining AZA, she completed a communications internship with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and an animal husbandry internship with the National Aquarium in Baltimore. She has a B.S. in biology from Villanova University, where she focused on conservation biology and completed research in avian ecology.

Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

Sara Walker, Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking

Prior to joining AZA, Sara was the executive director of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA), until a merger with AZA was announced in 2018. As the Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking, Sara continues to lead the efforts of the WTA and also works closely with AZA members on wildlife trafficking issues.

Prior to leading the WTA, Sara was the director of wildlife at The Humane Society of the United States, leading two national campaigns that focused on fur-free fashion and lead-free initiatives. From 2010-2014, Sara was responsible for a variety of domestic and international energy and climate initiatives at the United Nations Foundation, serving most recently as the associate director of global outreach on a climate science communications project around the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.  

Sara also has extensive experience working on environmental and natural resource policy at the state legislative level, in addition to state political campaign management experience. An Oregon native, Sara earned her MA in international relations from the University of San Diego and her BA in international studies from the University of Oregon. 

Member Services

Melissa Howerton, CAE, Senior Vice President, Member Services

Melissa joined AZA in 2008, overseeing membership and conferences. She oversees AZA's conferences, membership, professional development, education, sales, marketing and database operations. She develops general session programming, attendee marketing efforts, and overall strategic planning for AZA's member service areas. She administers the membership and database operations for the Association, including all recruitment, retention, and engagement efforts. She serves as the co-staff liaison to the AZA Membership Committee.

Previous to AZA, Melissa worked for eight years at the Newspaper Association of America, managing meetings, membership recruitment and retention, and committee liaison work. Melissa has a B.A. in communications from George Mason University and has been an active member of the American Society of Association Executives and has earned her Certified Association Executive credential.

Cheryl Andrews, Director, Conferences

Cheryl joined AZA in January 2007. She is responsible for all the logistical aspects of the Annual Conference and Mid-Year Meeting, including site selection, registration, hotel arrangements, audiovisual needs, speaker and program management, conference webpages, and meeting schedules.

Cheryl graduated from James Madison University with a B.B.A. in hospitality and tourism management and a concentration in special events and meeting planning.

Na'Denna Colbert, Director, Membership and Database Operations

Na’Denna is the director, membership and database operations with AZA.  Na’Denna leads AZA’s association management system, membership recruitment, and retention campaigns, and oversees the AZA Network online community.

With over ten years as a membership relations strategist, Na’Denna has expertise in client relations, member engagement, and program implementation.  She has committed her career to supporting associations and professionals in the association sector.

Na’Denna holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and political science from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Science in integrated marketing and communication from Roosevelt University.

Amy Rutherford, M.A.T., Director, Professional Development and Education

Amy joined AZA in 2011 as the professional development program manager, responsible for the development and management of AZA's Professional Development Program. As director, she now oversees this program, the Executive Leadership Development Program, as well as AZA’s education initiatives and partnerships including Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo and Aquarium, the education programs database, AZA’s role in the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), and the visitor education efforts for AZA SAFE. Amy is a staff liaison to the Professional Development Committee, Conservation Education Committee, and Ambassador Animal Scientific Advisory Group. Prior to joining AZA, Amy was an education specialist at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Amy earned a B.A. in history with a minor in news, media, and society from the University of Southern California and a M.A.T. in museum education from George Washington University.

Gina Velosky, M.B.A., Director, Integrated Marketing

Gina joined AZA in 2013. Her primary focus is on delivering valuable benefits to commercial members and developing marketing strategies for AZA conferences, commercial membership, and advertising across all channels. She also serves as a staff liaison to the Business Operations Committee, and the Membership Committee. 

Gina is a New Hampshire native with more than a decade of experience in integrative and strategic marketing and communications for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. 

Gina holds a BA in political science and government affairs from the University of New Hampshire, and a Master's degree in business with a focus in Strategic Marketing and Analysis from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland.

Jessica Heckendorn, Coordinator, Integrated Sales and Marketing

Jessica joined AZA in 2020. She works on conference exhibit strategy, sales, and marketing as well as Connect ad sales/benefits and supporting partnership collateral/benefits. She is the liaison to AZA’s commercial membership base. Jessica’s professional experience includes eight years working for various performing arts organizations. She was the box office and marketing manager for The Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif., and has also worked as the sales manager, subscriber and group relations at the National Theatre in Washington, DC.

Jessica has her B.A. radio-TV-film from California State University, Fullerton. She is currently pursuing her Masters in nonprofit management from the University of Central Florida.

Bridgett Owen, Coordinator, Events

Bridgett joined the AZA team in July of 2019. Her responsibilities include supporting conferences and professional development. Prior to AZA, Bridgett worked for three and a half years at the Association for Facilities Engineering, where she produced the quarterly journal, maintained internal and external communications, and assisted with member engagement. 

Bridgett joined AZA out of her passion for plant and wildlife conservation. She currently resides in Virginia with her dog, Rico, and spends her free time exploring the DMV area

Elissa Amador, Program Assistant, Membership

Elissa joined AZA in September 2021 to help support AZA’s member services and database operations. Prior to joining AZA, she interned at National Immigration Forum in Washington, DC, and Richmond Justice Initiative.
Elissa graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in homeland security and emergency preparedness. While in college, Elissa studied abroad in Sorrento, Italy at the Sant’Anna Institute. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at American University in ethics, peace, and human rights.

Kartik Viswanath, Program Assistant, Database

Kartik joined the AZA team in March 2017. He serves as a point of contact for members and organizations accredited by AZA, as well as assisting in database management. Kartik graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. in biology. He is a native of Richmond, Va.


Ana Maria Sanchez, Controller

Ana Maria joined AZA in January 2007 as a member of the Finance team; she manages all aspects of the accounting of AZA.

Ana Maria holds a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland University College, a Bachelor’s degree in philology and languages from Universidad Libre de Colombia, and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Nancy Ramos, Accounting Assistant

Nancy joined AZA in October 2004 as the office receptionist. Now in the role of accounting assistant, she performs daily clerical and accounting tasks to support the AZA’s financial team and provides administrative support to other departments as needed. 

Nancy is a DC native and joined AZA out of her admiration for wildlife. Nancy currently resides in Silver Spring and spends her time off with her two kids and dog. 

Stephanie Wood, Accounting Assistant

Stephanie joined AZA in April 2015 as a member of the Finance and Administration team. She handles everyday administrative tasks, oversees the front desk, and provides support to the controller.

Stephanie holds a Bachelor’s degree in economics from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

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