National Aquarium

National Aquarium Leadership

Leadership Team

National Aquarium - John Racanelli

John C. Racanelli
President and CEO

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As CEO of the National Aquarium, John leads a team of 600 full- and part-time employees and 1,000 volunteers in pursuing the Aquarium’s mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. The Aquarium welcomes 1.3 million guests annually at its campus on Baltimore’s famous Inner Harbor, while touching millions more through its conservation-education and engagement programs, social media platforms and conservation-action initiatives.

A passionate advocate for the ocean, John and his team manage one of the world’s leading aquariums and pursue local, regional and global efforts aimed at changing the way humanity views and cares for the ocean that sustains us all.

John joined the National Aquarium in July 2011 after 10 years as president of a San Francisco-based consulting firm that he founded to provide expert counsel to nonprofit leaders nationally and globally. During that time, his firm worked with over 30 leading cultural and conservation organizations—among them the Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Surfrider Foundation—as well as technology giant Google, where he assisted author and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle in bringing the ocean into Google Earth, the most popular Earth visualization tool in existence.

Prior to this, John spent 16 years in leadership positions at U.S. aquariums. He was the first CEO of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, where he built the facility, team and vision for Tampa Bay’s leading cultural attraction. He joined the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium one year prior to its opening, serving for nine years on its leadership team as vice president of marketing and development. While in college, John began his career as a diver and aquarist, experiences that he credits with giving him great appreciation for the work of everyone on the Aquarium team.

Fluent in Spanish, John holds a degree in strategic management from Dominican University of California. He is a scuba diver, open-water swimmer, sailor and surfer. His weekly radio show and podcast on WYPR public radio, “A Blue View,” explores important issues related to the aquatic world. John and his spouse, Susan, are proud residents of Canton, Baltimore’s historic waterfront district.

Dale Schmidt

Dale Schmidt
Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer

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As a member of the Aquarium's senior leadership team, Dale is responsible for capital planning, exhibit development, building operations, animal care and husbandry, finance and accounting, and information technology.

Dale has more than 30 years of experience working for accredited zoological organizations. He served as president and CEO of the Columbus Zoological Association; president and CEO of Oregon Coast Aquarium; executive director of Clearwater Marine Aquarium; and vice president of operations of the Florida Aquarium. He has also worked in operations for such organizations as Universal Studios Florida and Busch Entertainment Corporation.

Dale, who currently serves as chair of the Business Operations Special Committee for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, served as vice chairman of the Zoo and Aquarium Committee for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attraction. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in natural sciences from the University of South Florida and attended the Stanford Nonprofit Management Institute.

National Aquarium - Margot Amelia

Margot Amelia
Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer

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Margot brings more than 25 years of marketing experience to the National Aquarium leadership team. As senior vice president and chief marketing officer, she is responsible for the development and execution of the Aquarium’s marketing plan to achieve financial and strategic objectives.

Before joining the Aquarium, Margot served as executive director for the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, where she was responsible for marketing the state of Maryland as a destination. Her consumer-driven marketing strategies—which targeted key feeder markets through digital and traditional marketing channels—resulted in record-breaking years of visitation, visitor spending and state sales tax revenue in Maryland. She also launched the Maryland Green Tourism certification program in 2009.

Prior to the Maryland Office of Tourism, Margot worked for the Baltimore Convention and Visitors Association (now known as Visit Baltimore); for GKV (Gray Kirk Vansant Advertising) in various management positions; for Smith Burke & Azzam; and for Amelia & Associates.

Margot currently serves on the U.S. Travel Association's Experience Network Board of Directors, which represents visitor-serving organizations within the national association for travel and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Kris Hoellen

Kris Hoellen
Senior Vice President, Chief Conservation Officer

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Kris Hoellen is senior vice president and chief conservation officer for the National Aquarium. Over the course of her environmental career, she has “sat in all seats”—having worked for environmental regulators, regulated organizations, a research institution (the National Academy of Sciences), a major environmental contractor, an NGO, and an environmental television show before joining the Aquarium. These diverse experiences have given her a unique perspective and an enhanced ability to form collaborative partnerships necessary for solving complex environmental challenges. 

As senior vice president and CCO, Kris is responsible for leading and directing the National Aquarium’s conservation initiatives and programs, including the organization’s field, education and advocacy initiatives, as well as the Seafood Smart program. Her goal is to ensure the Aquarium's conservation initiatives are relevant, meaningful, durable and impactful. In order to achieve this goal, she intends for the Aquarium to integrate environmental stewardship, social justice, and sustainable economic development considerations into its programs and projects forming partnerships to achieve comprehensive solutions. Beyond Baltimore, the Chesapeake Bay and the Mid-Atlantic, Kris is focused on building the organization's conservation team and establishing key alliances with both the public and private sectors in order for the Aquarium to scale its conservation programs nationally and even globally as it seeks to effectuate change and protect special aquatic places.

Before joining the Aquarium, Kris served as senior vice president of sustainable programs for The Conservation Fund in Arlington, Virginia, a national non-profit organization chartered under the dual mission of protecting our nation’s land and water resources and promoting sustainable economic development. While there, she directed the sustainable programs business unit, which was dedicated to solving conservation and economic challenges, led the mitigation solutions program and served on the executive committee directly advising the CEO.

Her previous professional experience also includes leading and directing sustainable and environmental programs for organizations such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials and the URS Corporation (now AECOM).

She currently serves on several environment-focused boards, councils and committees for a variety of organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the Maryland State Highway Administration, and the Wildlife Habitat Council.

Kris holds a Master of Science degree in environmental science and policy from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Emory University in Atlanta.

Scott Douglas Melton

Scott Douglas Melton
Acting Senior Vice President, Chief Philanthropy Officer

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As acting senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer of the National Aquarium, Scott Douglas Melton is responsible for all philanthropic functions, including capital and annual operating fundraising, and plays an integral role in setting long-term strategies for all aspects of the Aquarium’s operations and future.

Scott is an established fundraising professional with experience ranging from local nonprofits, higher education institutions, and advocacy organizations. Before joining the Aquarium as vice president of individual giving Scott served as the senior director of individual giving for the NAACP, where he managed the direct response marketing, planned giving, major giving, and development operation activities. During his tenure at the NAACP Scott was successful in creating dynamic integrated marketing campaigns that made it possible for the Association to more than triple the size of their donor base.

Scott is a graduate of Winthrop University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in integrated marketing communication. He sits on a number of boards and is recognized as an expert within the fundraising community, often invited to speak at national and local conferences.

Candace Osunsade

Candace Osunsade
Senior Vice President, Chief of Staff

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For over 25 years, Candace has been a strategic business partner and human resources leader, helping organizations and professionals maximize their potential while driving business results. She is experienced in innovative and transformational change with expertise in talent management, organizational development, compensation, talent acquisition, employee engagement, project management, and HR system design and implementation.

By implementing structure and managing transformational change through incremental and digestible steps, Candace has led the transition of the National Aquarium’s HR department from a tactical internal service function to one that is a true strategic partner Examples of her accomplishments include the implementation of a fully functional human resource information system; strategic workforce planning based on talent assessment; nine-box succession planning; goals-based performance assessment; a competitive compensation program with data-driven decision making around merit and incentive awards, promotions and equity; and a best-in-class benefits program that includes a virtual wellness program and a financially stable self-funded medical and prescription plan.

In 2015, Candace was honored with the Chief HR Officer of the Year award by HRO Today magazine, a recognition celebrating the chief human resource officers that help drive workforce initiatives through innovation, with measurable excellence in employee engagement and retention to prove it. Candace believes in “investing in our future” and is heavily involved in a number of efforts around working with young people from underserved and poorly represented communities.

She is leading a groundbreaking fundraising effort to grow the College Success Scholars Program at University of Maryland, College Park; leading the Carver Foundation Board to launch a mentoring program for first-generation college-bound students; launching a mentoring program to enhance the Cornell University experience for women of color; and is involved in the YouthWorks program in Baltimore City.

Candace is a graduate of Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and a Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership alum, is Myers Briggs Qualified and is Six Sigma trained.

Kathy Sher

Kathy A. Sher
Senior Vice President, External Affairs

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As a member of the Aquarium team for over 25 years, Kathy's experience includes executive management and administration, strategic planning, private and public fundraising, marketing, visitor services and private consulting. Her duties have also included direction and management of auxiliary revenue areas, development, corporate sponsorship, membership, retail and food service.

Currently her focus is directed toward public funding for the Aquarium’s complex multimillion-dollar capital improvements. She also serves as a liaison to the National Aquarium Board of Directors and the community.

Widely experienced in the fundraising and marketing of nonprofit attractions, Kathy has served as a consultant for many institutions, including the Audubon Zoological Park, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium, South Carolina Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta.

In her external affairs role, the Aquarium has increased its already strong commitment to the citizens of Baltimore and Maryland. She serves on a number of statewide and community boards, including the governor’s Maryland Tourism Development Board, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the American Visionary Art Museum Board and the Aspire Fundraising Committee for the benefit of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.

Kathy has been a pioneer in nonprofit management, fundraising, government affairs and community outreach. She has also worked with diverse constituencies and as an adviser to several startup museum projects and cultural attractions. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from Edinboro College and a master’s degree from Duquesne University. She lives in Ruxton, Maryland, with her husband.

Brent Whitaker

Brent Whitaker
Senior Vice President, Chief Science Officer

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In 1989, Brent came to the National Aquarium as staff veterinarian and initiated the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, which is still operational (but now known as National Aquarium Animal Rescue).

Prior to his current role, Brent was vice president of biological programs, where he oversaw the National Aquarium’s husbandry, veterinary medical, laboratory, marine animal rescue and biological research programs. With a staff of more than 90 expert individuals, he managed the health and welfare of nearly 20,000 animals and ensured a memorable experience for all guests.

Brent received his Master of Science degree in aquatic toxicology in 1986 and a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1988 from the University of Florida. His academic appointments include research associate professor and veterinarian at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology and assistant professor in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He has also served on multiple institutional animal care and use committees over the past 20 years and currently provides aquatic animal expertise to the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.

Brent is an active member of the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine, American Association of Fish Veterinarians, the American Association of Zoological Medicine, the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Medicine, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Brent remains committed to the education of our future colleagues and the advancement of animal care and welfare, a commitment that is shared fully by the AZA.

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