“Preparedness is a critical part of animal health, welfare, and conservation. I joined AZA to strengthen a culture of preparedness in the zoological community and help all types of facilities managing captive wildlife become better prepared to protect animals and their caretakers from potential hazards." - Ashley Zielinski

“It has never been more evident that conservation of wild life and wild places depends on winning the hearts and minds of people. People visit zoos and aquariums, so this is increasingly where we are going to protect wild life.” - Dan Ashe

“The collective impact of AZA-accredited institutions on animal welfare and conservation is unmatched. Accreditation not only identifies us as leaders in the field, but it allows us to make a real difference in the lives of the animals in our care, and their counterparts in the wild.” - Cheri Bermudez

“I work at AZA because I have a passion for this field and the work we all do. As a lifelong learning advocate, I hope that my work contributes to the constant improvement of our field and supports the excellent professionals in it.” - Kari Hart

Staff

Dan Ashe President and CEO

Why AZA:

“It has never been more evident that conservation of wild life and wild places depends on winning the hearts and minds of people. People visit zoos and aquariums, so this is increasingly where we are going to protect wild life.”

Responsibilities:

Dan is charged with advancing AZA’s vision, mission, and strategic priorities.

Experience:

A lifelong wild life conservationist, Dan joined AZA in January 2017 after serving as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for nearly six years. 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 included assistant director for external affairs, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, science advisor to the director and deputy director.

Education:

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.

Craig Hoover Executive Vice President

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA to make a difference for zoos and aquariums. To join the gold standard in accreditation, conservation, and welfare. To contribute to being a gold standard workplace.”

Responsibilities:

Craig oversees all of AZA’s departments and supports AZA’s president and chief executive officer and its board of directors.

Experience:

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 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, 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.

Education:

Craig has a bachelor of science in natural resources management from the University of Michigan and a juris doctor from Loyola Law School.

Jack Keeney, Jr. General Counsel

Why AZA:

“First as outside general counsel from 1992 and later as in-house general counsel since 2015, I appreciate the people and the unique mission-driven work of AZA in animal well-being.”

Responsibilities:

Jack handles all legal matters for AZA.

Experience:

Jack is the former President of the 100,000 lawyer District of Columbia Bar and its past delegate to the American Bar Association where he chaired the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law. He is a retired partner of Hogan & Hartson and subsequently headed appellate advocacy for the Legal Aid Society in Washington, D.C. He is on the board of directors of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs as well as the Washington Council of Lawyers and serves on the Nominations Committee of the local ACLU. Public service awards include the Justice Potter Stewart Award from the Council for Court Excellence, the Wiley Branton Award for civil rights from the Lawyers Committee, and the Outstanding State Chair Award from the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation.

Education:

Jack has an bachelor of arts summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Notre Dame where he captained its debate team and a juris doctor cum laude from Harvard Law School where he was on its Ames moot court champion team. He is a member of the Maryland and District of Columbia bars and those of their federal courts and the United States Supreme Court.

Leticia Orti Director, Executive Operations

Responsibilities:

Leticia serves as the executive assistant to AZA’s president and chief executive officer and supports AZA’s board of directors and executive vice president.

Experience:

Leticia has extensive program management experience gained through work with consulting organizations and non-profits in conservation and international development, including nine years with the Wildlife Conservation Society’ s Global Conservation Program based at the Bronx Zoo in New York and in Washington, D.C.

Education:

Leticia has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College/Columbia University as well as master’s degrees from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and the Yale School of the Environment.

Accreditation

Denny L. Lewis Senior Vice President, Accreditation Programs

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA to help build a world-class accreditation program designed to encourage every zoo and aquarium to strive to be the best, and to set the gold standard for excellence in animal care and welfare, conservation, education, safety, facilities and more.”

Responsibilities:

Denny oversees AZA’s accreditation and certification programs, supports AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission, and provides guidance to the Commission, AZA-accredited and certified facilities, those seeking accreditation, and inspection teams. Denny oversees the inspections and Commission hearings, and also oversees Commission investigations should incidents occur that may be impacted by standards. Denny reports to the president and chief executive officer, the executive vice president, and the AZA board of directors regarding accreditation matters.

Experience:

Denny has made a career of 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. In addition, Denny also spent many years running a corporation (the Development Guaranty Group) that guaranteed the completion of major building projects, should the need arise. This involved a detailed and ongoing investigative procedure both prior to and during the life of the guaranteed project, and overseeing the project’s completion should the builder fail to do so.

Education:

Denny has a bachelor of science in business studies from the University of Maryland and a master’s in business administration from University of Maryland—University College.

Jennifer DiNenna Director, Accreditation Programs

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because of a strong lifelong passion for animals and the desire to make a difference for animals everywhere, both in the wild and in zoos and aquariums. AZA accreditation is recognized as the gold standard for animal welfare and care in the zoological profession. Playing a role in continuously raising that bar of excellence to improve the lives of animals in our care is both critical and priceless.”

Responsibilities:

Jennifer provides support to the Accreditation Commission, inspectors, members, and potential applicants, and directs AZA’s accreditation and certification programs. She works closely with inspection teams to assure consistency in the evaluation of accredited zoos and aquariums, provides counsel to member facilities, and assists in the development of continuing professional standards and processes.

Experience:

Jenn came to AZA with several years of positive reinforcement animal training experience. She also managed a pet boarding and training facility.

Education:

Jenn has a bachelor of science from the University of Maryland in biological life sciences with a concentration in zoology. She also has a certificate of achievement from Animal Behavior College.

Cheri Bermudez Coordinator, Accreditation Programs

Why AZA:

“The collective impact of AZA-accredited institutions on animal welfare and conservation is unmatched. Accreditation not only identifies us as leaders in the field, but it allows us to make a real difference in the lives of the animals in our care, and their counterparts in the wild.”

Responsibilities:

Cheri’s primary responsibilities include acting as the staff contact for accreditation applicants and inspectors, reviewing reports, responding to general inquiries and investigating letters of concern, managing the Accreditation Resource Center, and providing support for all accreditation-related processes.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Cheri worked for several years as a veterinary technician and interned at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center doing behavioral and dietary research with diving ducks.

Education:

Cheri has a bachelor of science from the University of Maryland in environmental science with a concentration in wildlife ecology and management.

Ashley Pritchard Program Assistant, Accreditation Programs

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because of a deep love and passion for zoos and aquariums and the impact they have on conservation and education. Having the ability to assist facilities in the accreditation process is so rewarding.”

Responsibilities:

Ashley provides ongoing support to assist in the administration of the application process for AZA’s accreditation and certification programs.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Ashley worked at The Dolphin Company as Regional Manager of Education, where she worked with both Marineland and Miami Seaquarium. Ashley played a large role in helping Marineland, AZA’s newest member facility, put together its first accreditation application.

Education:

Ashley has her B.A. in Environmental Studies from McDaniel College and her M.A. in Environmental Studies from Goucher College.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Ashley worked for The Dolphin Company for five years at both Marineland Dolphin Adventure and Miami Seaquarium in education developing curriculum and programs for students of all ages.

Conservation, Management, and Welfare Sciences

Dr. Candice Dorsey Senior Vice President, Conservation, Management and Welfare Sciences

Why AZA:

“I work at AZA because I am passionate about the impact that zoos and aquariums have on wildlife conservation, management, research, and engaging the community in caring about animals and their habitats.”

Responsibilities:

Dr. Candice Dorsey oversees AZA’s programs and initiatives surrounding conservation, population management, and animal wellbeing. Candice works closely with AZA committees, scientific advisory groups, animal programs, and member facilities, and provides oversight and support to the AZA Population Management Center and Reproductive Management Center. Candice also collaborates internationally with zoological associations, is a member of the WAZA Ethics and Animal Welfare Committee and vice chair of the WAZA Committee on Population Management.

Experience:

Candice has more than 20 years of experience working and volunteering with zoos and aquariums, including at Franklin Park Zoo and Smithsonian’s National Zoo. She has studied black-footed ferret population genetics, western lowland gorilla behavior, and wildlife endocrinology, reproductive biology, and disease dynamics surrounding several species managed in AZA-accredited zoos, including black and white rhinos, giant pandas, Asian elephants, lions, and red pandas. She is an appointed Smithsonian research associate. View Candice's ResearchGate profile.

Education:

Candice has a bachelor’s in biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a master of science in conservation biology from the American University, a PhD in environmental science and public policy from George Mason University, and graduate certificates in high performance leadership and the psychology of leadership from Cornell University.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Candice has more than 20 years of experience working and volunteering with zoos and aquariums, including at Franklin Park Zoo and Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Shelly Grow Vice President, Conservation and Science

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because I believe in the power of zoos and aquariums to bring people together and make life better for wildlife.”

Responsibilities:

Shelly oversees efforts to increase the collective impact of AZA members in the conservation of wildlife.

Experience:

Shelly has supported collaborative conservation and science initiatives among AZA members since 2003, including the Butterfly Conservation Initiative, 2008: Year of the Frog, FrogWatch USA, and SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. She also oversees related member services, including granting programs and the tracking and reporting of member engagement in conservation. In 2021, Shelly was appointed to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize Advisory Council and its boards on the Prevention of Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking and the Protection of Endangered Species. Shelly has also worked on sustainable agriculture policy at the Henry A. Wallace Center for Agricultural and Environmental Policy at Winrock International and as a contract organic agriculture researcher with the University of Maryland–College Park and the US Department of Agriculture.

Education:

Shelly has a bachelor of arts in cross-cultural environmental studies from Grinnell College and a master of science in sustainable development and conservation biology from the University of Maryland–College Park.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Shelly was a butterfly keeper and guide at The Butterfly Farm in La Guácima de Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Dr. Megan Brown Director, Population Management Strategy

Why AZA:

“I came to AZA to help make a difference in how we manage and care for animal populations in zoos and aquariums.”

Responsibilities:

Megan supports AZA’s cooperatively managed animal programs and works to strategically increase the sustainability of animal populations. She analyzes regional and global population data and trends within institutional collection planning, especially as it relates to population sustainability, and assists AZA facilities in master and collection planning.

Experience:

Megan’s research experience prior to AZA focused on multidisciplinary approaches to improving animal care and reproduction in species ex situ. Specifically, she assessed glucocorticoid and reproductive hormone production in conjunction with a variety of behavioral and management situations, promoting egg production through modifying enclosures, and understanding the effect of monogamous pair bonding on reproductive success. Species she worked with include whooping, white-naped, and hooded cranes, maned wolves, kiwi, Guam kingfishers, and native North American songbirds. View Megan's ResearchGate profile.

Education:

Megan has a PhD and master of science in animal and avian sciences from University of Maryland and a bachelor of science in zoo science from Delaware Valley College.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Megan completed her graduate and post-doctoral fellowships through a collaboration between Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Center for Species Survival at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in front Royal, Va., gaining experience in animal care and management, and working in the gamete, wildlife endocrinology, and conservation genomics laboratories. During undergrad, Megan interned at Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville, Pa., in the animal care and education departments.

Matthew Krcmarik Coordinator, Animal Programs

Why AZA:

“I have a strong passion for advancing the standards of animal care, management, and sustainability in zoos and aquariums. I joined AZA’s Conservation, Management, and Welfare Sciences Department to be involved with collaborations amongst zoo and aquarium leaders and contribute to ever-progressing the gold standard in animal care, management, and welfare.”

Responsibilities:

Matthew’s role as animal programs coordinator 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 close communication with animal program leaders, institutional liaisons, institutional representatives, and the staff of AZA Population Management and Reproductive Management Centers. Additionally, he supports the initiatives of the Animal Population Management Committee and the Aquatic Collections Sustainability Committee.

Education:

Matthew has a bachelor of science in fisheries and wildlife from Michigan State University and a master of science in environmental science and policy from George Mason University.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Matthew has a strong background in the zoo and aquarium industry. Beginning in 2012, his first zoo experience was working as a camp counselor at Busch Gardens, Tampa in Tampa, Fla. He then moved to work at the Wilds near Powell, Ohio, in the Hellbender Conservation Center, where he helped to manage the eastern hellbender head-start program. Before joining us at AZA, Matthew spent time at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Va., where he conducted his graduate research, 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.

Katey Leban Coordinator, Conservation

Why AZA:

“My family visited every zoo and aquarium they came across when I was a child, and AZA-accredited facilities represent the top in the country. As a biologist, I want to conserve our world’s wildlife and wild places for my child to marvel at and be inspired by just like I was.”

Responsibilities:

Katey serves as the primary contact for the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction species programs and facilitates the SAFE Granting Program and Conservation Grants Fund (CGF).

Experience:

She comes with a varied aquatic background, having worked as a field technician for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a hatchery technician for aquaculture company Proaquatix LLC., and a production manager for Marine Applied Physics Corporation’s Solar Oysters pilot project. While part of Brevard Zoo’s Conservation Department, Katey served as the primary coordinator for its citizen science-based oyster gardening project and specialized in nearshore coastal restoration utilizing oysters and native vegetation.

Education:

Katey has a bachelor of science in marine biology and a master of science in conservation technology from Florida Institute of Technology.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Her first experience in the AZA world was as a high school intern in the Tropical Upland Rainforest exhibit at The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md. During graduate school, Katey worked in the Education Department at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fla., as a Lagoon Quest intern and summer camp counselor. A few years later, Katey returned to Brevard Zoo as part of its Conservation Department’s Restore Our Shores team and aided in the program’s coastal restoration efforts for over five years.

Marissa Boland Program Assistant, Animal Programs

Why AZA:

“I joined the AZA because I have a passion for making a difference in the lives and wellbeing of animals, both in the wild and in human care. The AZA is the gold standard for that wide-scale impact, and I feel honored to be a part of the movement towards consistently advancing Conservation, Management, and Welfare. I love that I am a part of the process that invites guests to see these animals, and develop a passion for them, similar to how I did as a child.”

Responsibilities:

Marissa performs various duties in support of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA’s) Conservation, Management, and Welfare Sciences (CMWS) department. These duties include maintaining departmental databases, preparing and editing reports, maintaining accurate records and webpages related to the department’s work, providing excellent member services and support to AZA Committees, Animal Programs, institutional collection planners, AZA members and partners, and the general public.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Marissa worked as a foster and rescue coordinator for the Pennsylvania SPCA. As an undergraduate, she worked with capuchin monkeys for four years in various roles including enrichment, husbandry, and behavioral research. She has interned with the University of Pennsylvania Working Dog Center, Brandywine Zoo, and the Farm Animal Department of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Education:

Marissa has a bachelor of science in animal behavior and minor in environmental studies from Franklin and Marshall College.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Marissa was formerly an education intern with Brandywine Zoo, maintaining the small mammal house and providing informative talks with ambassador animals.

Gillian Cannataro Program Assistant, Conservation Programs

Why AZA:

"Since joining the AZA community, my passion and enthusiasm for wildlife conservation and science have only been strengthened. It is so rewarding to work with and support organizations that have made such a tremendous impact on conservation, research, and animal care and welfare."

Responsibilities:

Gillian's role as program assistant for conservation programs supports AZA's conservation programs and processes including SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction, Conservation Grants Fund, and the SAFE Granting Program. She is also responsible for maintaining databases and reviewing survey data and publications related to the field conservation, research, and green practices sections of the Annual Report on Conservation and Science.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA as a conservation, management, and welfare sciences intern, Gillian worked as a small animal veterinary technician, and interned at Defenders of Wildlife as a conservation science intern. As an undergraduate, she supported research with sea turtle hatchlings at FAU's marine lab, and conducted research analyzing the song and cognitive performance of songbirds at the Avian Behavioral Ecology and Bioacoustics Lab.

Education:

Gillian has a bachelor of science in biological sciences with an honors designation in biological science research from Florida Atlantic University.

Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

Sara Walker Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking

Why AZA:

“I came to AZA to join forces with a powerful community in a united and expanded effort to fight the global epidemic in wildlife trafficking.”

Responsibilities:

Sara oversees AZA’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) and Reduce the Risk initiative.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Sara was the executive director of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, until its acquisition by AZA was announced in 2018. Prior to leading the WTA, Sara was a 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.

Education:

Sara has a master of arts in international relations from the University of San Diego, a bachelor of science in international affairs from the University of Oregon, and an associate in science in flight technology from Lane Community College.

Government Affairs

Steve Olson Senior Vice President, Government Affairs

Why AZA:

“The best part of my job is that our work helps great people do great things in wildlife conservation, rescue, research, and education. What more could you ask for?”

Responsibilities:

Steve came to AZA as Director of the government affairs program in 2000. He oversees the AZA government affairs program which includes working with Congress, regulatory agencies and wildlife conservation/animal welfare organizations.

Experience:

Steve began work for the U.S. House of Representatives' Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee in 1987. Steve has also worked for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges as Director of the Marine and Environmental Division; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the Project Manager for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary; the North Carolina Sea Grant College Program as Associate Director; and the National Coastal Resources Institute as Executive Director.

Education:

Steve received his bachelor of science. in natural resources/wildlife management and his master of arts in natural resources policy from Colorado State University.

Jennifer Keaton Vice President, Congressional Affairs

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because it’s a community of people who care deeply about conserving wildlife and serving their local communities.”

Responsibilities:

Jennifer handles federal and state legislative issues and leads AZA’s advocacy efforts.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, she worked for eleven years on Capitol Hill for Representatives Mary Jo Kilroy (OH), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY), and Ron Klink (PA).

Education:

Jennifer has a bachelor of arts in political science, a bachelor of arts in international service, and a master of arts in international affairs from American University.

Ashley Zielinski Director, Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership

Why AZA:

“Preparedness is a critical part of animal health, welfare, and conservation. I joined AZA to strengthen a culture of preparedness in the zoological community and help all types of facilities managing captive wildlife become better prepared to protect animals and their caretakers from potential hazards."

Responsibilities:

Ashley manages the Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership (ZAHP), a USDA-funded collaborative program dedicated to enhancing preparedness and resilience to hazards that may impact zoos, aquariums, and other captive wildlife facilities. She works closely with stakeholders from the zoo community, State and Federal agencies, and NGOs to develop resources and support initiatives aimed at increasing resiliency to disease events, natural disasters, and other emergencies. Ashley is a staff liaison to the AZA Safety Committee, and represents AZA in the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition and other groups.

Experience:

Ashley joined AZA in 2015 as a program specialist to support the development of a new program, then known as the ZAHP Fusion Center. Prior to AZA, Ashley worked as a program analyst for the District of Columbia.

Education:

Ashley has a B.A in International Studies from American University, with a concentration in environmental policy and development.

Beth Firchau Coordinator, AZA-Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project

Why AZA:

“My childhood experiences at zoos and aquariums helped ignite my interest in learning and exploring nature. I’m rewarded and humbled every day to be able to do the same for the next generation and to work with others dedicated to good stewardship of our planet.”

Responsibilities:

Beth coordinates the AZA national network (Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project) of facilities approved to manage and care for Florida rescue corals by the State of Florida.

Experience:

Beth started her career in 1990 as a special needs education program coordinator and a year later became the marine aquarist and dive operations supervisor at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio, joining AZA the very month she was hired full-time. During her 32 years as a professional aquarist, public aquarium curator, and director of husbandry at several AZA-accredited facilities, she has actively served the AZA in a number of supportive and leadership positions on board-appointed committees and taxon advisory groups. Her parallel professional pathways of animal husbandry and dedicated association service have provided Beth a strong foundation for her current position coordinating and managing the Association’s Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project, an integral part of the world’s largest coral rescue campaign in history.

Education:

Beth received a bachelor of science in zoology, minoring in mathematics, from The Ohio State University and in recent years has pursued masters work in biological oceanography at Old Dominion University.

Brynn McDonnell Coordinator, Government Affairs

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because my values align with the organization’s mission. I am passionate about conservation, education, and animal welfare, and I am proud to be part of a team whose values align with my own.”

Responsibilities:

Brynn supports AZA’s government affairs work by tracking legislation and assisting with advocacy efforts in order to advance the mission of AZA throughout federal, state, and local governments.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Brynn served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2015-2016 in Dubuque, Iowa. Most recently, she worked as a rapid response researcher for a Political Action Committee and a D.C.-based nonprofit where she focused on issues related to good government and corporate social responsibility.

Education:

Brynn has a bachelor of science in political science, sociology, and ethics from Central Michigan University.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Brynn currently volunteers at an AZA-accredited facility where she assists in preparing animal diets, cleaning exhibits, and speaking with guests about the animals in the facility’s care. Volunteering helped her realize that she wanted a career advocating for accredited zoos and aquariums.

Communications

Rob Vernon Senior Vice President, Communications and Strategy

Why AZA:

“I grew up hearing stories about zoo animals from my Sunday school teacher, who was also a veterinarian at my local zoo. Now I have the opportunity to tell incredible stories about the work AZA-accredited facilities are doing to save animals from extinction to the world.”

Responsibilities:

Rob is responsible for overseeing all communications functions of the AZA, including public relations, social media, internal communications, public opinion polling, the AZA website, and Connect magazine. He also serves as the primary spokesperson for AZA and is the staff liaison to the Honors and Awards Committee, the Public Relations Committee, and the Trends Committee.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, he worked at two international public relations firms, developing public affairs communications and public policy strategies for various 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, a trade association, and a political youth-focused non-profit.

Education:

Rob had a bachelor of arts in political science from Valparaiso University and an master’s of business administration from The George Washington University.

Tim Lewthwaite Director, Publications and Brand

Why AZA:

“As wildlife and wild places come increasingly under threat, the zoo and aquarium community has an opportunity to play a growing role in saving threatened species and habitats. Playing a small part in telling that story is immensely satisfying.”

Responsibilities:

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.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Tim was director of communications at Georgetown Preparatory School and worked in the communications office of the Newspaper Association of America.

Education:

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

Karlyn Marcy Coordinator, Digital Media

Why AZA:

“I work at AZA to make a difference for wildlife and wild places and to share the incredible stories of conservation work and animal care by our member zoos and aquariums.”

Responsibilities:

Karlyn joined AZA's communications department in May 2020. As the digital media coordinator, she manages AZA's and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance’s social media channels, manages and maintains the website and digital Connect, monitors and analyzes social media and news coverage of AZA and its members, produces monthly and quarterly newsletters, and assists with various other communications needs for AZA and WTA.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, she worked at Walt Disney World Resort for three years in the Public Affairs department and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in a variety of in-park and office conservation education and communications roles. While in college, she interned on the communications teams at the UF Office of Sustainability, the Gulf Coast Humane Society, and Gainesville Regional Utilities.

Education:

Karlyn graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor of science in public relations and a minor in sustainability studies in 2017.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Karlyn worked at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park with the Disney’s Animals, Science, and Environment education team developing conservation education materials for in-park and online distribution, on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek educating guests about the animals, and on the Wilderness Explorer team throughout the park facilitating educational lessons for Wilderness Explorer badges.

Sarah Gilsoul Program Assistant, Communications

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because I believe the work that the organization and our members do in increasing environmental awareness through education, incredible experiences, and storytelling is essential in creating a community of people who care for the environment.”

Responsibilities:

Sarah joined AZA in September 2022 to support the communications department. As the Communications Program Assistant, she creates daily member news updates, helps monitor and analyze social media and news coverage of AZA and its members, and assists with the maintenance of the AZA website and digital Connect.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Sarah was involved in honors research at Gettysburg College that built off the College’s newly adopted Land Acknowledgement Statement. This journalistic research highlighted the historical and continued presence of Indigenous Peoples in Pennsylvania as well as the environmental implications of colonization. She additionally interned with the Education Departments at both Utah’s Hogle Zoo and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Education:

Sarah graduated from Gettysburg College with a bachelor of arts in environmental studies and a minor in educational studies in 2022.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Sarah worked with Utah’s Hogle Zoo as an Education intern where she assisted with the daily preparation of summer camps and developed environmental education materials. She also interned with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute as the Conservation Education intern where she facilitated virtual events and webinars as well as designed an education program for the facility’s new Bird House.

Member Services

Melissa Howerton Senior Vice President, Member Services

Why AZA:

“The work of our members is truly inspiring! It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to combine my career goals with my personal passion for saving wild life and wild places.”

Responsibilities:

Melissa provides oversight and management of the member services team, encompassing all of the revenue-generating areas of Association.

Experience:

Prior to AZA, Melissa spent more than eight years in progressive positions at the Newspaper Association of America, managing all aspects of meetings, membership, and supporting committees.

Education:

Melissa is a graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., with a bachelor of arts degree in communication. She also earned the credential of certified association executive from the American Society of Association Executives. She grew up near the ocean, with a passion to one day be a marine biologist so that she could save the ocean. That career path didn’t stick, but her passion for the ocean and saving it has never stopped.

Cheryl Andrews Director, Conferences

Why AZA:

“I love being able to bring our members together to learn from and network with each other to further our mission of working to conserve species.”

Responsibilities:

Cheryl joined AZA in 2007 and oversees all logistics and planning for AZA’s conferences and meetings, which includes the Directors’ Policy Conference, Mid-Year Meeting, and Annual Conference.

Education:

Cheryl has a bachelor of business administration from James Madison University where she majored in hospitality and tourism management, with a concentration in meeting planning and special events.

Kari Hart Director, Professional Development and Education

Why AZA:

“I work at AZA because I have a passion for this field and the work we all do. As a lifelong learning advocate, I hope that my work contributes to the constant improvement of our field and supports the excellent professionals in it.”

Responsibilities:

Kari oversees AZA’s Professional Development Program, the Executive Leadership Development Program, and AZA’s education initiatives and partnerships including Party for the Planet. Kari is a staff liaison to the Conservation Education Committee, Professional Development Committee, Volunteer Management Committee, and the Ambassador Animal Scientific Advisory Group.

Experience:

Kari has more than a decade of experience in zoo and aquarium education and guest engagement at multiple accredited organizations. Prior to joining AZA in 2022, Kari was the manager of education programs at the New York Aquarium in New York, N.Y., and served as a member of the Conservation Education Committee.

Education:

Kari has a bachelor of arts in biology from Appalachian State University and an master’s in education from Clemson University.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Kari has worked her entire career in the zoo and aquarium field, including at the Wildlife Conservation Society, in New York, N.Y.; Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, La.; and the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C.

Jessica Heckendorn Director, Member Relations and Engagement

Why AZA:

“I joined AZA because of my passion for animal welfare. I strive to increase the collective impact of our members and empower the zoo/aquarium professionals to be leaders in their field.”

Responsibilities:

Jessica oversees AZA’s member services department and leads member relations and engagement initiatives.

Experience:

Jessica has worked for ten years with various institutions in the nonprofit sector. Before AZA, she was the box office and marketing manager for The Groundlings Theatre and School in Los Angeles, Calif. She also worked as the sales manager, subscriber, and group relations in Washington, DC. Jessica began her tenure at AZA as integrated sales and marketing coordinator, leading the organization's exhibitor, sponsor, and advertising solutions for the commercial member base.

Education:

Jessica has a bachelor of arts in radio-TV-film from the California State University of Fullerton. She also has her master’s in nonprofit management and a graduate certificate in fundraising from the University of Central Florida.

Amanda Johnston Director, Integrated Marketing & Development

Why AZA:

“As a lifelong lover of animals and wildlife, I value AZA’s leadership in animal welfare, care and conservation. It is meaningful to go to work each day to help support AZA members in the important work that they do, including AZA SAFE, the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, and conservation initiatives.”

Responsibilities:

Amanda leads the Integrated Marketing efforts at AZA, including engaging with AZA Commercial Member Engagement Council members, facilitating strategic partnerships, and managing fundraising initiatives

Experience:

Amanda has 20 years of experience in marketing, sales, communications, and nonprofit management in the tourism, arts, education, and technology industries. She previously was the Director of Marketing, Communications, and Membership at the Marine Technology Society. Previous roles also include Executive Director of the Fort Detrick Alliance, Assistant Director of the Historical Society of Frederick County, Marketing Director for the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Marketing Director for BlackRock Center for the Arts, and Public Relations Specialist at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown. She has been actively involved as a member of various tourism boards and as a member of the American Alliance of Museums and the American Society of Association Executives.

Education:

Amanda has an MBA from University of Maryland Global Campus, a Master in Management with a Specialization in Marketing from University of Maryland Global Campus, and a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Maryland College Park.

Elissa Amador Coordinator, Integrated Marketing and Development

Responsibilities:

Elissa joined AZA in September 2021 to help support AZA’s member services and database operations. In 2022, she was promoted as the coordinator, integrated marketing and development, supporting the sales and marketing areas of the Association.

Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, she held various sales positions and interned at the National Immigration Forum in Washington, DC, and the Richmond Justice Initiative.

Education:

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.

Heidi Faris Coordinator, Connecting to Nature

Responsibilities:

Heidi joined AZA in 2015 to support the nature play initiative. As the Connecting to Nature Coordinator Heidi manages the Party for the Planet®: Spring into Action national campaign and the Connecting to Nature initiative on the Conservation Education Committee.

Education:

Heidi graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in geology and the University of Minnesota-Duluth with an M.Ed. in Environmental Education.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Prior to joining AZA, Heidi worked at the North Carolina Zoo, managing the Nature Play Area, KidZone, and the Lake Superior Zoo managing education programs.

Lauren George Coordinator, Professional Development and Education

Why AZA:

“Working at AZA is a joy, and I find a deep sense of belonging when I am able to participate in mission-based work. My goal is to make the world a better place, and I am overjoyed to work alongside others who are passionate about animal care and excellence in education and conservation.”

Responsibilities:

Lauren joined AZA in June 2022. She coordinates all aspects of in-person and virtual professional development courses, including scheduling, promotion, website updates, and evaluation.

Experience:

Prior to AZA, Lauren worked as the volunteer program specialist at the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) in Arlington, Va. Lauren also spent four years as an education interpreter at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, S.C.

Education:

Lauren has a bachelor of arts in music from Belmont University and is currently pursuing a master’s in biology from Miami University.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

During her time as an education interpreter at the South Carolina Aquarium, Lauren led education programs, community outreach, school programs, and facilitated animal encounters. Lauren also served as the volunteer training instructor, and assisted with on-boarding, training, and scheduling volunteers. Her favorite moments were introducing ambassador animals to guests and sharing her love of the ocean with others.

Bridgett Owen Coordinator, Events

Why AZA:

"I joined AZA to do my part in the conservation of wildlife and wild places. AZA events foster new connections, ideas, and partnerships between our members and prospective members, and those moments advance animal welfare, public engagement and wildlife conservation. Seeing everyone come together at AZA events brings me so much pride and joy."

Responsibilities:

Bridgett joined AZA’s Member Services department in July 2019. She assists in the planning and coordination of AZA Professional Development courses and Conferences, which include Directors’ Policy Conference, Mid-Year Meeting, and Annual Conference.

Experience:

Prior to AZA, Bridgett worked in Membership Management and Communications at the Association for Facilities Engineering (AFE). She also served as the content manager for the Facilities Engineering Journal, AFE’s quarterly journal.

Education:

Bridgett has a bachelor of arts in biology from Christopher Newport University.

Joan Zimmerman Coordinator, Membership and Database

Why AZA:

"AZA is an incredible organization, and it is an honor to be a part of an organization focused on conservation, welfare to animals, educations, and diversity. I work at AZA because they are the gold standard."

Responsibilities:

Joan manages the overall integrity of the AZA database, including membership data entry, reporting, payment process, and donation management. Her role supports user experience, customer service, and upgrades/enhancements to the database.

Experience:

Joan started out her career by participating in fieldwork and interning at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C., since then she has held various positions focusing on service to others and administrative processes.

Education:

Joan has a B.S. in Environmental Biology from Christopher Newport University and is pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of Denver University College.

Anna Daumer Program Assistant, Member Services

Why AZA:

“I am proud to support institutions and individuals that stand for excellent animal welfare, education, and conservation. Working with such a mission-driven organization is a pleasure.”

Responsibilities:

Anna is responsible for membership inquiries, membership mailings, inventory, and generally assisting the Director of Member Services and Engagement.

Experience:

Prior to working with the AZA, Anna worked in nonprofit administration with a local public health agency, where she assisted with communications and pandemic response.

Education:

Anna has a bachelor of arts in ecological sciences from Northwestern College.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Anna completed an internship as a bird keeper at the Auckland Zoo.

Grace Hamilton Program Assistant, Member Services

Why AZA:

Conservation is very important and I love playing a role in getting people involved in essential conservation efforts. I also enjoy connecting with different AZA members."

Responsibilities:

Grace is responsible for membership mailings, inventory, marketing emails, membership renewals, and generally assisting the Director of Member Relations and Engagement.

Experience:

Grace is experienced in nonprofit work due to her time as the secretary of a student-led organization called The Fifty on Howard University’s campus. This organization centered around voting rights and fighting for an easier absentee ballot process. She also interned for DC Jobs with Justice, where she assisted organizers with outreach and administrative work.

Education:

Grace recently graduated from Howard University with Magna Cum Laude honors with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Spanish.

Administration

Phil Wagner Chief Financial Officer

Why AZA:

“I came to AZA to help manage a business in a field about which I’m passionate – care for animals and public awareness of the importance of animals in our world.”

Responsibilities:

Phil manages the financial affairs of AZA and supports other departments with services in benefits, human resources, and office 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.

Experience:

Phil joined the AZA in December 2011, with over 30 years of accounting experience, including stints in Big Four public accounting, retail, telecommunications, and not-for-profit.

Education:

He holds a bachelor's in accounting from Loyola University in Baltimore and is a certified public accountant.

Zoo & Aquarium Experience:

Phil previously worked for two and half years as controller at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, MD.

Ana Maria Sanchez Controller

Why AZA:

“I enjoy working for organizations with a mission and committed to the wellbeing of humanity and the world we live in.”

Responsibilities:

Ana Maria manages all aspects of the accounting department of AZA.

Experience:

Ana Maria has worked for more than twenty years at non-for-profit organizations, the last 15 at AZA.

Education:

Ana Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University of Maryland University College, a bachelor’s degree in philology and languages from Universidad Libre de Colombia, and is a certified public accountant.

Swathi Sree Chukka Coordinator, Accounting

Why AZA:

"I am proud to be a small part of an institution which is committed to animal welfare, education, and conservation. It is a pleasure to participate in mission-based work."

Responsibilities:

Assist with various accounting activities to support the finance department of AZA and other department as necessary, especially the processing of reimbursements for professional development course instructors and accreditation inspectors.

Experience:

Prior to working with the AZA, Swathi Sree worked as a payroll coordinator at Best Brains for past 5 years.

Education:

Swathi Sree holds a master’s degree in business administration, international business from JNTU University, Hyderabad India, and a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy from JNTU University, Hyderabad India.

Stephanie Wood Coordinator, Administration

Why AZA:

“I like knowing that even my small part at AZA helps to make a difference in the lives of animals all over the world.”

Responsibilities:

Stephanie handles everyday administrative tasks, oversees the front desk and provides support for various departments.

Experience:

Stephanie has 11 years of experience in administration and finance, and has been with AZA for seven years.

Education:

Stephanie has a bachelor of arts in economics from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and is pursuing a certified management accounting certification.

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