Staff

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.

Accreditation

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.

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., Coordinator, Animal Programs

Matthew joined AZA’s Conservation, Management, and Welfare Science department in October 2021. His 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 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. 

Conservation

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. 

Katey Leban, M.S., Conservation Coordinator

Katey joined AZA’s Conservation and Science Department in February 2022. She supports member engagement in SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction, including the transition of existing cooperative programs into SAFE, and works with AZA conservation staff to maintain databases of engagement, program accountability, and progress towards programmatic measures of success. Katey also develops, reviews, and edits conservation and science-related materials for AZA’s conservation programs including SAFE, Conservation Grants Fund, and SAFE Granting Program.

Prior to joining AZA, Katey worked at Brevard Zoo for over five years as the primary coordinator for its citizen science-based oyster gardening project and specialized in nearshore coastal restoration utilizing oysters and native vegetation. Although she misses Florida’s warm coastal waters, Katey is thrilled to be a part of the AZA team.

Katey received a B.S. in Marine Biology in 2013 and an M.S. in Conservation Technology in 2014 from the Florida Institute of Technology. As part of her graduate program, Katey traveled to Peru and the Galapagos Islands to study terrestrial and marine Neotropical ecology.

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. 

Communications 

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 action 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.

Karlyn Marcy, Digital Media Coordinator

Karlyn joined AZA's communications department in May 2020. She manages AZA's and WTA's social media channels, maintains the website and digital Connect, monitors news coverage of AZA and its members, produces monthly and quarterly newsletters, and works on a variety of other communications needs for AZA and WTA. 

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 a variety of in-park and office conservation education and communications roles.

Karlyn graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. 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.   

Brynn McDonnell, Coordinator, Government Affairs

Brynn joined AZA in February 2022 to support AZA’s government affairs work. Prior to joining AZA, Brynn served a year in AmeriCorps and worked as a rapid response researcher for a number of organizations.

Brynn graduated from Central Michigan University in 2015 with a B.S. in political science, sociology, and ethics.

As a longtime volunteer at an AZA member facility, Brynn is passionate about animal care and welfare as well as encouraging community members to visit and engage with their local accredited zoo and aquarium.

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.

Kari Hart, Director, Professional Development and Education

Kari joined AZA in February of 2022. She coordinates AZA in-person and virtual professional development courses. Kari has over a decade of experience working in zoos and aquariums. Prior to working at AZA, she worked as the Manager of Education Programs at the New York Aquarium. Kari has a B.A. in biology from Appalachian State University and a Master's of Education from Clemson University.

Lauren George, Coordinator, Professional Development and Education  

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. 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., where she 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.

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

Jessica Heckendorn, Director, Member Relations and Engagement

Jessica joined AZA in 2020, as the Coordinator, Sales and Marketing. In 2022, she was promoted to the Director, Member Relations and Engagement, working in the membership and database areas. 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 also has her Master's in nonprofit management from the University of Central Florida.

Bridgett Owen, Coordinator, Events

Bridgett joined the AZA team in July of 2019. Her main role is to support the planning and coordination of AZA Conferences and Professional Development Courses. 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 studied biology at Christopher Newport University and 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, Coordinator, Integrated Marketing and Development

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. Prior to joining AZA, she held various sales positions and 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.

Administration

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.

Leticia Orti, Executive Assistant

Leticia joined AZA in May 2022 as the executive assistant to AZA’s president and chief executive officer and supports AZA’s board of directors and executive vice president. She 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.

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.

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